A Gay Tapestry

A GAY TAPESTRY

By

Tony Millard

(This manuscript is the copyright of the Webmaster of The Unorthodox Website Blog and may not be reproduced without permission of the author.)

 (Dedicated to the memory of my partner George Millard, whose recollections and those of his friends are used in this biography.)

‘When people complain there is no purpose, reason or justice in life, I remind them of a Chinese parable about a tapestry. From the back, it seems a jungle of unconnected meaningless threads but when you turn the tapestry over, there is a perfect pattern and design. Life is a tapestry.’ -  George Millard

INTRODUCTION

When my partner unexpectedly got ill and died after 21 years together I was in a state of deep shock, and I resolved to write down his life story. George had done so much in his 48 years, met so many interesting characters, been to so many places and found himself in such unusual situations. He should have written his autobiography, and I have used as much of his written notes as I can in compiling this book, along with recollections of himself and his friends.

I wanted to also write of our great love and how it changed us both from the people we were, so this had to be a biography of two people. It turned out to be much more than that as you will discover.

This is the story of a boy from a poor part of Glasgow who at a very early age became enmeshed in a world of gay prostitution and drugs, whose parents died when he was young, and who, although deprived of a university education through circumstances, possessed a questioning, analytical intellect which drove him to an appreciation of literature and the arts, and to become a wit, cynic and a philosopher by his 20s. He moved to London, where he slept rough and mixed with other prostitutes of both sexes. He even lived for a while as a rent boy in Paris, his favorite city. He got involved with a secretive revolutionary political group which used drugs and hypnosis to gain a hold over its followers, and he became paranoid about anything even vaguely leftwing. He believed in God and reincarnation.
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This is also the story of another boy, of Anglo-Greek-Cypriot parentage, who grew up in London and led a very sheltered, puritanical life, not discovering sex or the gay scene until well into his 20s. No sex, no drugs, but he did indulge in Rock’n’Roll of the 1950s variety, becoming a second-generation Teddy-boy. His adolescent sexual frustration was dealt with by throwing himself wholeheartedly into the peace movement of the early 1960s, and then becoming part of the revolutionary leftist backlash to the Wilson government/Vietnam War in the late 1960s. He became a hardline member of the Communist Party, and an atheist.

We two met in our mid 20s, and somehow, despite our totally different backgrounds and political beliefs, we fell in love and stayed together 21 years till death parted us. During those years we traveled the world together, met all sorts of people, taught each other important lessons and made each other laugh with our imaginary characterizations and sketches performed at parties and on video. George taught me an appreciation of the theater, good films and literature, and our religious and political beliefs became almost identical. Only our tastes in music never really converged.

George’s sudden death from an AIDS-related illness was most unusual because of the time-lapse of only two weeks from first becoming really ill to his death. He never had an HIV test, so his HIV status remained unknown, depriving him of the support and financial benefits he was entitled to. He died just four days after first being diagnosed, and we both believed the hospital had got it wrong. I was left to struggle with the diagnosis alone, for family and friends were not told. Knowing little about AIDS, and with no-one but George’s community nurse to turn to for advice and support, it took me months before I could accept it.

Remarkably, the story did not end with George’s death, for our love lives on beyond the grave, as witnessed by the many ways George continues to contact me and our friends, even giving me a present.

So this book contains biography, philosophy, a travelog, arts appreciation, gay erotica, humor, tragedy, politics and evidence of survival after death. It is above all a gay love story which proves the cliché that ‘love conquers all’.

– Tony Millard.

1. THE YEAR WE MET

We met on Thursday September 10th, 1970. I was due on night shift at Overseas Telegrams, but instead stayed on at England’s oldest cinema, The Biograph in Victoria.  Little known by the general public, this establishment was a gay meeting place for many decades, and most gay men did not go there to see the films.

On this particular occasion, George had actually gone especially to see a film called ‘The Group’. I sat next to him, and that is how we met. After the film ended I asked if he would like to go for a drink, he told me he did not drink, but I persisted and invited him for a tea or coffee. We went over to the buffet on Victoria station, and after a chat we agreed to meet again the following Sunday.

I think it was on that first day we met, while he waited with me at the 24/29 bus-stop outside Victoria station in Wilton Road for my bus to Camden Town, that I told him I had just come back from a holiday in the Soviet Union. I remember telling him proudly how everybody had TV sets (a symbol of affluence as I saw it), and George was unimpressed and remarked that TV was an easy way to spread propaganda to brainwash people. Our political differences had already become apparent.

We nevertheless kept meeting up, and despite his doubts at first I convinced George that I was genuine, and not part of  a mysterious leftwing political group, who he told me later had on occasions hypnotized him whilst he slept. He was obviously very worried by this group, and was in poor health due to the stress. There was a history of heart trouble in his family, and at the time I met him George was attending the National Heart Hospital regularly because he suffered from palpitations.

 When I met him he certainly was frightened to the point of paranoia by this sinister group of people, only one of whom George ever positively identified to me. I never found out exactly what the group was, but according to a letter George wrote his sister years before I met him, which she showed me after his death, George feared this group was part of some KGB plot to destabilize the government and ferment revolution.
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When George told me about how these people were threatening him (I cannot remember if they had actually used violence against him or not), I just wanted to protect him and make him feel secure. I told him later this was the moment when I knew I loved him, and he replied that this emotion was pity, not love. He was wrong – it was much more than pity, though obviously my heart went out to him when he told me how scared he was of these people. My reaction, however, was not just one of pity, but of knowing I loved him and wanted to be with him as much as I could, so no one could hurt him again. The seeds of our love grew from there.

That these seeds ever took root and flourished seems to be a miracle, because at the time we met, when George was paranoid about anything vaguely leftwing and Communism in particular, I was a paid-up member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and attached to an unofficial Stalinist faction fighting ‘revisionism’ in the Party.

When George came to see me for the first time at my mother’s council flat in Camden Town, he was horrified when he saw my room. Not only had I painted it in violent orange and black colors, which were evidence of my disturbed mind at the time, but the room was a pseudo-religious shrine to Stalinism. Soviet propaganda posters lined the walls, and on the back of the door were black and white tapestries of Lenin and Stalin, with Soviet medallions and badges attached. The centerpiece I’d created an atheistic altar to Communism draped in a red hammer and sickle flag on which stood a statue of Lenin and a volume of his collected works.
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After seeing this room George must have wanted to cut off all contact with me, suspecting I was another member of this group trying to get close to him. Yet, in a way, the fact that I was so open about my political beliefs may have convinced him I was not a member of this clandestine group, who would surely have hidden their motives in order to gain his trust. They would more likely have used someone who claimed to be non-political or a Conservative, rather than a raging Stalinist fanatic.

Nevertheless we wrote each other love letters, were meeting at least three times a week, and  started going out to the cinema together. Throughout our 21 years as a couple we regularly went to see films and plays, and my tastes changed over the years as he got me to appreciate good cinema and theater.

In a letter to me George said how much he needed me emotionally, and that this was so much more important than the sexual aspect of our relationship. This proved to be so true over the years, for as the physical side of our relationship subsided (we were never really sexually compatible), our emotional bonds grew stronger than ever. We cuddled a lot and shared a bed till the very end, and never stopped loving each other, but sex did not enter into the relationship in the end, and was never important even at the beginning.

After he died, I found out from one of our friends that George was unemployed when he met me, but quickly found work . He told the friend, a gay guy known as Lena, that he had done this because he had met a wonderful person. He got a job with the British Film Institute in Dean Street, Soho, for I met him there several times after he finished work.Â
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One day I asked my mother if she would mind George staying the night, i.e. sharing my single bed, and that gave her something to think about, but she finally agreed. She did not really have much option, because I had already left home two years previously and had only agreed to share a flat with her again if she accepted my lifestyle. Had she refused my request, she knew I would simply move out again.

George received quite a culture shock when I took him to a 1950s-style rock’n’roll revival club frequented by Teddy-boys and leather-jacketed rockers. That night the club was particularly packed as American rocker Gene Vincent was appearing there. George never liked crowded places at the best of times, and I pushed as near to the stage as I could with George in front of me, whilst everyone around was pushing, shoving and going mad. George told me afterwards he would never come with me again, and accused me of screaming in his ear like a silly schoolgirl all the way through Gene’s performance.

On his visits to our flat in Bradfield Court George brought various gifts, such as a plant, and making his own ice cream became a specialty of his. We watched TV, played records, looked at photos, and read poetry together, among other things. George used to write poems, all of them very sad. He never wrote one about me, because he said he could only write poetry when he was unhappy, about depressing things like death, hardship, lost love, and so on. He felt too happy about our relationship to be able to compose his kind of melancholy, but beautiful, poetry.
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He tried to instil some sense of culture and the arts in me, and one day, after seeing the Christmas illuminations in Regent Street, he took me (and my aunt) to see ‘La Boheme’ at The Coliseum. Sadly, although I enjoyed some of the arias, I could never really understand classical music or opera, and George stopped going himself eventually, partly because of the high cost of tickets. It is ironic that we only met another gay couple who were also great classical music lovers a few months before George died, or he might have had many years of concert-going with friends who shared his appreciation of fine music. However, he did teach me to love the theater and good films, and introduced me to some of the great writers.

On Christmas Day 1970 I spent what proved to be our very last traditional family Christmas with my grandparents, mother, brother, aunts and uncles in Welwyn Garden City. George always hated Christmas (not least because his mother died at this time of year when he was very young), but he told me he was spending it with friends. In actual fact he was in his bed-sitter trying his utmost to ‘ignore’ the ‘festive season’.

He never met my grandmother, but he did speak to her briefly on the phone when he rang me there on Christmas Day. I remember my grandmother saying she was glad I had met a friend. She no doubt realized how lonely I had been in my teenage years, but I don’t know if she knew I was gay. A few days later my grandmother, who was 83 and in relatively good health, slipped and broke her hip whilst trying to reach a saucepan on a high shelf in the kitchen, and she never fully recovered. The hip mended in hospital, but the accident accelerated the aging process and she seemed to lose the will to live. Dementia set in, and my mother had to give up her job and stay in Welwyn Garden City to look after her.

On New Year’s Eve 1970/71 George came over and we saw our first New Year in together. It was to be the first of many, and being Scots, Hogmanay meant much more to George than Christmas.

We had made it to the end of the year, yet there was a time when we almost did not. Soon after we met, George was due to call round at my place one Sunday, but failed to turn up or phone. I panicked, feeling I would never see him again, and just had to get over to Pimlico and find out what was wrong. I feared he was fed up with me, or something dreadful had happened.

When I arrived I managed to get in the main front door and up to his room, where I knocked and knocked on the door but he refused to answer. Then his flatmate turned up and let me in and there was George in bed either asleep or pretending to be. He told me he was not feeling well, and I immediately rushed out to a nearby chemist to get him some medication. I believe he described the symptoms of flu, but I am sure he had been scared off by my Communist fanaticism, probably thinking I was indeed part of the sinister group he was so anxious to escape from. He told me later that the way I rushed over and became so genuinely concerned when he said he was ill proved to him that my love was real.

I cannot help thinking what might have happened to both of us had I not gone over to Pimlico that Sunday, and had his flatmate not turned up when he did. Certainly both our lives would have been very different, probably much sadder, and I doubt either of us would have traveled the world separately as much as we did together. Would I today still be ignorant of the theater, and know only the trivial cinema of action and horror stories? Would George have survived the stress of fighting sinister forces alone, and the heart palpitations this was causing him to suffer?

There is one thing George never forgave me for: the first time he came round to my flat I never offered him a cup of tea, only a cola. I had to live with his rebuke throughout our 21 years together: ‘You never even offered me a cup of tea when I first came to see you.’

Yet, from such an unpromising start, a relationship grew which proved strong enough to overcome all the trials of the years. It was not to be a bed of roses by any means. On the eve of 1971, over 20 years of good and bad times, rough and smooth, give and take, lay ahead of us.

2. BACK TO OUR ROOTS – EARLY CHILDHOOD

George was born in Glasgow in 1943. His birth had been induced by an air-raid, for when a bomb fell at the stroke of midnight at the end of the street, his mother started going into labor. George was born two and a quarter hours later. It is reported that his screams, as he was pulled protesting into the world, frightened his mother more than the air-raid sirens.

Just under two years later hundreds of miles away in the Middlesex Hospital, just off London’s Oxford Street, I was born with a club foot, hare lip and cleft palate, disfigurements which could well have been caused by the shock of a V2 exploding, which caused my mother to almost lose the baby when she was just three months pregnant. I was born in March 1945, and whilst my mother and I were still in the hospital, another bomb blew all the windows in. A few weeks later the war in Europe ended.

One of George’s earliest memories was of a sense of panic in a passage-way as his mother appeared to be attempting to suffocate him. Fearing they we’re going to be buried in rubble when a bomb fell nearby, she protected baby George with her own body from the falling debris. His sister retained an equally vivid memory of this incident, and according to George was jealous of the protection the ‘spoiled screaming brat’ was getting.  This grew into open antagonism as they became rivals and arch-enemies as children.Â
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George’s mother must have been as straight-speaking as George was, for he remembers them visiting a cinema near Glasgow’s Charing Cross where his Aunt Lily, whom his mother detested, worked as a part-time usherette.

‘Did you like the film, Elizabeth?’ asked Lily in her pseudo-posh accent at the end of the performance.

‘A damn sight better than I like you,’ was his mother’s retort, hurriedly dragging him ‘away from the awful aunt as if she had the plague’, as George later wrote about the incident.

George and his family lived in a very closely-knit community in Glasgow’s Partick area. It was a working-class district of tenement blocks, and all his aunts, uncles and cousins seemed to have lived in the same street.

By contrast my own family was spread all over London and the Southeast. My first two homes were in the relative affluence of West Hampstead – a reflection of my father’s successful restaurant business. My father was always a very distant figure. He was in the restaurant till midnight, then went to Greek-Cypriot clubs gambling, wining (rather than winning), dining and womanizing. He would come home in the early hours and sleep till midday or longer. I rarely saw much of him. As my mother was English and did not speak Greek, it is little wonder I grew up speaking only English, whereas my Greek-Cypriot cousins brought up in London also speak Greek. I did pick up a few words and phrases, but soon forgot these once my parents separated when I was six.
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My father often got drunk and would come home and beat my mother. Once when she asked for some housekeeping money he told her to ‘go down Piccadilly and earn some’.  Of course she wouldn’t have dreamt of doing this, but had she taken him at his word it would have resulted in another beating.

She never got back money she lent him to buy his first restaurant, a pie and mash shop. When he sold it at a profit and she asked for her share, he said she had eaten it in the pie and mash she had eaten whilst working there.
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My mother left my father in 1951 after a friend told her that a planned holiday in Cyprus was not all it seemed. Apparently my father had bought only one-way tickets for my brother and myself, and was determined we should be brought up in Cyprus. My mother was particularly worried about me because I needed constant hospital treatment and operations for my leg, lip and palate, for which I was under specialists at the Middlesex Hospital, and then of course there was the continuing drunken violence towards my mother.

So we went first to a refuge in Fulham, then spent a few weeks with my mother’s eldest brother and large family in rural Kent, before moving in with my grandparents in Wood Green. This became the place I now think of as my childhood home. We had an overgrown garden with an outside toilet, a lawn, flowers, a hen coop and gooseberry bushes.

When we moved in the street was still illuminated by gas lamps, the milkman still delivered by horse and cart, as did the coalman, emptying sacks into our cellar coal-hole. There were left-overs from the War such as ration books for things like sweets and sugar, and at the corner of the street were pig-bins into which everybody put their potato peelings and other vegetable waste. We knew all our neighbors and I can still recall their names, so different from today.Â
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Gradually, in the mid 1950s, the character of the street began to change as families moved out and new occupants moved in to what were now becoming flats and bed-sit accommodation. A Polish woman studying to be a doctor moved into an upstairs bed-sit next door, finding it difficult to concentrate on her studies with my brother and me screaming and shouting in our garden. She’d poke her head out of the window and tell us to be quiet in her strange Polish accent, a performance we found so amusing  we deliberately used to scream our heads off. One day my grandfather discovered Mrs ‘Do-not-shout’ as we called her muttering to herself at the end of her garden behind our hen house, not saying her prayers as he thought but the only quiet place she could find to study her medical books.

Downstairs a black family from Barbados moved in. Although apprehensive at first, my grandmother became the best of friends with them and used to baby sit, coming back to tell us about exotic Barbadian recipes.
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The ample Mrs White, who lived there previously, was always leaning over the brick wall in Norman Evans style, and once complained that her husband was late for work because our kitchen clock was slow.

A neighbor once offered us to stay in a lovely bungalow they went to every year. Its garden had a large hut which would sleep several people, a brook at the end, and the sea was nearby. We went with my uncle and his family and it turned into the holiday from Hell.

My mother had a broken in plaster, so my aunt had to do most of the housework, and the accommodation turned out to be two ramshackle huts with no running water, electricity, piped gas or sanitation. Cold water had to be obtained from a solitary tap in the middle of a field, shared with dozens of other families. We had Calor gas and oil-lamps, and a smelly Elsan toilet which Len had to empt into the ‘brook’ (actually a sewage ditch) at the bottom of the garden.  The River Blackwater was aptly named with thick black mud when the tide was out, and the ‘boulders on the beach’ turned out to be the bombed remains of an old sea wall.

Usually we went a boarding house on the sea front in Margate.. This also had no running water in the rooms, but Jean was a cheerful woman who called everyone ‘lovey’ and who used to bring up huge old fashioned jugs and bowls of hot water to wash in every morning, and cups of tea.

However, there was a rather coarse sister, Elsie, who was working at the Margate house one year when we arrived with my grandparents. My grandmother did not think her at all suitable to be serving at tables with children and adolescents like myself and my brother, for she was making crude comments about ‘a bit of the other’ all the time. One year, at the Cliftonville house, my mother remarked on the nice potted plants. Jean’s daughter remarked: ‘Yeah, me’n’Elsie nicked ‘em from Butlins’ (who had some hotels down the road).

This ‘daughter’, if indeed that is what she was, arrived suddenly one year as a tiny baby at the Margate house.

‘One of the visitors left her, lovey,’ said Jean in explanation, leaving the rest to the imagination.

We all loved the place, but George and his family only got day trips to Rothesay, sailing down the River Clyde on the Waverley paddle-steamer, but his family did have TV since the early 1950s. We never got ours till nearly ten years later.

With my cleft-palate and club-foot, I underwent a lot of operations during my childhood. They straightened my foot and closed the hare lip soon after birth, but it left me with one leg shorter than the other, a fixed right ankle, a scar on my upper lip, a cleft palate and associated dental problems. In 1951 I slipped on the wet tiles of the front pathway and broke my bad leg. I had to stay in hospital for six months with my leg in traction, lest I should lose any more length from the injured right limb, already several inches shorter than the left one.
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I missed a lot of schooling, and so my mother and grandparents decided to send me to a private school for a year to catch up. ‘Beaumaris School for Girls’ was a local institution which took boys up the age of seven, and was situated in a big old Victorian house and run by two elderly spinsters. ‘Playtime’ consisted of sedately walking around the garden in line doing lady-like exercises. Numerous cats freely wandered around the school, jumping up on desks whilst we were having lessons. The day always started with a reading session from Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ books, which introduced me to them and made me a firm fan, collecting all the books in the series. Punishments included going down to the cellar with a coal scuttle to collect fuel for the fires, and crawling up the stairs on your hands and knees.Â
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This school certainly helped me catch up on my missed education, but whether attending a predominantly girls’ school had anything to do with my later homosexuality or not, it certainly did not get me used to mixing with men. My father had always been absent and so I had been surrounded by women since birth, brought up by my mother, doted on by waitresses and women cashiers in my father’s restaurant, and surrounded by female nurses in hospital. My grandmother was a very dominant woman, and my grandfather very quiet.

All the men in my life were distant and hostile. I had seen my father in a drunken rage smashing our furniture when we were leaving him. Male doctors and surgeons in hospital had always been associated with painful examinations and operations, and my grandfather was a frightening figure who scolded us for damaging his garden.

When I went to the local State school and was due to go into a male teacher’s class for the first time I cried all night because I was so terrified of men with whom, at the age of eight, I had never had any close contact.

On my first day at primary school, back in 1950, I was disgusted when looking for the toilet to see boys urinating against what looked to me like a wall. I’d never seen a urinal before, my father never being around to take me into a gents’ toilet. I kept wandering into the girls’ toilet at this school only to be chased out back to the boys pissing against the wall! I was also chased out of the Wendy House in the classroom, and told by the teacher it was for ‘girls only’ but I could be the postman. So even back then, aged 5, my eventual sexual orientation was probably predictable.

A lonely child, when I was about 9 Michael, a boy in my class, befriended me. A cheerful lad with a lovely personality and smile. He became my best friend for years both in and out of school. While other children mimicked the way I talked (a muffled nasal tone because of my cleft palate), or called me ‘Hop-Along-Cassidy’ or ‘Hopadopoulos’ because of my Greek name and bad leg, Michael was always kind and considerate and made me laugh. He too had a strange foreign name, beginning with a ‘Z’, because his paternal grandfather was Czech, so perhaps that helped draw us together. There were not that many foreigners in London’s outer suburbs then.

Around 1950, when George was about seven, his mother died. It was Christmas time when she was taken ill, but George was not told. All he knew was that she was missing. He was given toys, but knew something was wrong. His father made George say a prayer for his mother, after which he cried and cuddled the boy. George was not used to this show of emotion from his father. ‘Did this sudden closeness contribute to my subsequent homosexuality?’ muses George when writing about these events.                   Â
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It was not until later he was told that his mother had died of heart failure, apparently two days after Christmas. George was at first just told she had gone to stay with a relative.

His aunts wore black dresses and black stockings for months. Eventually ‘one of my uncles was given the task of breaking the terrible truth’, George wrote, ‘”Your Mammy has gone to Heaven” he explained. Next year, my father asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I inadvertently upset him, stating: “I want my Mammy back”. This may have prompted him several years later to bestow a step-mother on me.’

Over the period of George’s mother’s death he stayed with a relative and had to share a bed with a girl cousin. George much later confided to both myself and his sister that this cousin sexually assaulted him when his mother was either dying or had just died. This too could well have contributed to his not wanting sexual relations with women in later life. The cousin had forced his hand into her private parts, an incident which still filled him with horror to talk about forty years later.

3. LATER CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE

Following the trauma of George’s mother’s sudden death they moved to a new house where, as he later wrote: ‘I slept in a huge bed cuddled close to my father. Then I played truant simply because I preferred sleep to school.’ One morning George was rudely awoken from a dream about the lessons he was evading when his irate father pulled him from the bed and took him to school. He was later told that this lapse in his schooling ‘prompted my father to find a replacement surrogate mother, whose name was Lizzie Lang’.

George wrote: ‘I needed a maternal figure. I was a lonely child with no friends because we’d moved to another district and another school. My sisters wouldn’t let me accompany them with their boyfriends to the cinema. So suddenly being given a stepmother who promised presents and security, I clung to her like a chick in the secure wings of a mother hen.

‘But along with this new mother came a stepbrother, Robin, with whom I formed a strange relationship. He was 2/3 years older. A delinquent – I stole from him. He killed my pet hamster and helped me bury it in the garden. He committed crimes. He liked rock’n’roll, Cliff Richard, Little Richard. We shared the same bed. We formed a sado-masochistic relationship. He tormented and taunted me with tricks. I suppose I was a horrible boring little brat.’

George told me quite a bit about this love-hate relationship with his stepbrother. Robin squeezed the life out of George’s pet hamster while George looked on powerless to stop him. He also tormented him by playing loud Little Richard and other rock’n’roll records, and he dressed as a Teddy-boy.

Years later George met me, who also loved Little Richard and rock’n’roll, had a quiff and sometimes wore the Teddy-boy gear. I can’t help feeling that must have been part of his attraction towards me, though he never admitted it in so many words. George’s sado-masochistic relationship with his stepbrother affected his later sexual tastes, but I could never role-play the sadistic Robin – I loved and respected George too much as a person. So we developed a deep, emotional, non-sexual relationship over the years we were together.

George and Robin shared a bed, and George used to feel the bed shake at night when Robin was masturbating, but at first did not know what was going on. After he had been ‘initiated by a kind strange man into the mysteries and magic of masturbation’, George realized what Robin was doing under the bedclothes.

Apparently one night his stepbrother came home frustrated from a date with his girlfriend and sexually abused George. Remembering the earlier sexual abuse by a girl cousin, George used to say he had suffered child sexual abuse from both a man and a woman.

This was how George told the story to myself and his sister, but in his written versions the sexual relationship with Robin is actually initiated by George. It seems Robin changed out of his jeans into football gear and left, but returned to the bedroom to catch George masturbating with his face buried in the discarded jeans. ‘Angrily, he swore at me, calling me a dirty fucking little bastard, put me across his knee, and started spanking me.’  This resulted in George experiencing an orgasm. ‘From that experience, the seeds of sado-masochistic sex were sowed inside me’, George wrote.

On a later occasion George felt and heard his stepbrother masturbating and Robin let George grope and then give him oral sex. After two minutes it was all over, and the young George could not understand why Robin (feeling guilty and ashamed) angrily pushed him aside. When George persisted with his groping, Robin ‘roughly turned me face-down on the bed, kicking me with his knee-cap, as the sound of spanking would have woken up the rest of the family.’ George wrote that he bribed Robin ‘with a pound of my pocket money’ to keep doing it till George climaxed, ‘and not tell our respective parents about my sexual misbehaviour’.

On one occasion Robin attempted to penetrate George anally, but was not very successful. Although George was presumably willing to lose his virginity, it was physically impossible without experience and a lot of lubricant. (In fact I myself only ever made one attempt, and was also unsuccessful.)

This rather one-sided sex in which only Robin received gratification seems only to have occurred on two or three sporadic occasions, and George wrote that ‘Robin rejected me completely with contempt.’

Three months after the last incident mentioned above, Robin married a girl whom he had made pregnant, and it was the end of George’s sexual relations with him. George wrote: ‘The only time I ever saw my stepbrother again, was when I was 25 and went back home, where I met him in the street where he introduced me to his wife and 4 children.’

George heard from his sister that their stepbrother later ‘had formed a suspect and scandalous relationship with a notorious homosexual with whom he shared a cell’ in prison. ‘He was last seen as an alcoholic deserted by his wife, mother and sisters and living in a hostel for the homeless. He could well be one of those huddled figures I hurriedly pass by as I go under Hungerford Bridge on certain nights.’

So George was initiated into gay sex at a very early age, possibly as young as 12, and by the time he moved to London at the age of 16 he was quite experienced, having been on the gay scene in Glasgow for several years. In complete contrast down in the London area I knew I was gay from the age of 13, but was totally isolated and frustrated throughout my teens, and never experienced sex of any kind until well into my twenties.

By the time I was 12 I had about three good friends at my secondary modern school. One in particular, Paul, introduced me to rock’n’roll 45s. Paul also had access to books depicting nude females, and I took quite an interest in these pictures. In break times we made up fantasies involving Paul’s imaginary Uncle Flook (the man with the oversized knob), his favorite film star Diana Dors and other women. I even had a crush on a girl in my class, making my brother take a round-about route to school so I could pass her house. I would then follow her all the way, pulling her pony-tail and teasing her.

After one of my spells in hospital, I returned to school, and Michael, my best friend, broke the news that this girl had died of Asian Flu, which swept Britain in 1957. I don’t think anybody knew I had a crush on her (except my mother who I told later), but I was quite upset at the time.

In that period there were enormous changes in my life. We’d moved out of my grandparents’ house to a council flat, and I spent most of the first part of 1958  in hospital for operations on my leg and on my lip. Then doctors kept coming in and looking at my private parts. I was not told anything, but I remember on a visit to the out-patients some time earlier my grandmother had taken me in to the almoner and whispered to her: ‘He’s not developing properly’.

I was only told a day or two before the operation that it had to be done ‘or I couldn’t get married and have children’. I was bitterly opposed to it, having had enough of hospitals and operations, and despising this seemingly unnecessary one about which everyone was being so secretive and deceitful. They seemed to be forcing me to have some operation I did not understand and did not want, without even bothering to tell me, let alone get my consent.

As my mother sat by my hospital bed and tried to explain why I could not come home yet but had to have a third operation during this one hospital stay, I argued vehemently with her: ‘I don’t want to get married and have children. I wasn’t meant to – that girl I was fond of died.’

It was no use. A 13-year old in those days had no rights and the operation was done. It had a traumatic effect which ruined my teenage years, and affected the rest of my life.

I do not blame my mother or grandparents, they thought they were doing the right thing. But the hospital should have known better and should have told them I had to be taken into their confidence at a very early stage, or the operation could have a devastating psychological effect on me. I am still not even convinced it was necessary, as puberty sometimes comes late, and I was barely 13 when the operation was done, only 12 when it was planned. It could certainly have been left another year or so. I also should have had psychological counseling both before and after the operation, but this was 1958 when such things were unheard of.

Some months later I had to return to the hospital for another operation to remove the deep stitches, and on being discharged, my brother and I went on a holiday in Saffron Walden staying at a sort of hostel. Two other boys shared our bedroom and for the very first time I began to be conscious of homosexual fantasies (about these boys). I had often fantasized about Diana Dors and the nude women in the picture books, but never about boys or men before. It was as though subconsciously I was rebelling against the operation, and making good my statement that I would never marry and have children. I found I enjoyed homosexual fantasies much more than heterosexual ones, and from that point on I knew I was gay. I had to wait nine long, miserable, frustrated, lonely years before I could even begin to fulfil those fantasies.
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I was partly to blame for initiating queries about my development, for a year or two earlier when I shared a bedroom with my brother, he had awoken in the night frightened and worried because he had experienced his first erection, and thought something was wrong. I am ashamed to say that I did not reassure him, though I did of course experience erections myself. However, feeling guilty about the nudie picture books at school and the sexy stories about women I swopped with Paul (whom I knew my mother disapproved of as a bad influence), I made out I did not know what was wrong with his cock, and my mother must have been acutely embarrassed when Philip called her in to ask why his cock was all stiff. She then explained that this happens as you get older, and turned to me and said: ‘Yours goes the same, doesn’t it, Tony?’, whereupon I guiltily denied it.

Without a father to explain such matters to us, we lived in a sexually repressive household in which the only message which got drummed through to us was: ‘Never talk to strange men, never accept lifts or sweets from strangers and never use public toilets.’ This message had the effect of brainwashing, so that I obeyed it automatically, blocking off most possibilities of my experiencing gay sex and condemning myself to a miserable, isolated, frustrated teenage. Gays have to take some risks or we would never meet anyone like ourselves and would be forced to remain celibate all our lives.

This denial by me that I experienced sexual arousal must have alerted my mother to the fact that puberty had not yet taken place, and started her secret inquiries which led to the two dreaded operations. The physical and mental scars left by them made me even more introverted than ever, and I withdrew into a shell. To make matters worse, I changed schools in September and left my few friends behind. Michael was at my new school (actually a Technical College), but in a different department, studying draftmanship. I was doing a general business course.

Again I found myself in a predominantly girls’ school, with only seven other boys in my class, and nine in the class above. No more boys were taken for this course in the classes below us. One of the boys left in the first week to go back to his old school, and I should have done the same, for I could not get on with any of my remaining male school-mates, even though I had a crush on one of them.

The trauma of the operation left me in a terrible state where I found it so hard to socialize with people of my own age that my school nickname became ‘sociable’. Whilst longing to be friends with them, I would go and stand on my own at break times while they all gathered together. Nobody came and tried to befriend me, as Michael had once done. I stopped doing games and PT because I did not want any other boys to see my operation scars in the showers, even though those that showed most were on my upper thighs and would not readily be connected with an operation on my private parts.

My mother had also changed our surname to avoid all the difficulties my Greek one caused, thinking no-one at my new school would know. However, one boy had come from my old school and told them all my real name, and then accusingly demanded to know why I pretended it was something else now.

As our class was nearly all girls, we took games with Michael’s class every Monday afternoon, and I used to look forward to walking together from the college to Tottenham marshes where the other boys used to play football. On some occasions Michael would make out he was ill so he could spend the whole afternoon with me, for all I used to do was sit on my own while the others played. I hated football, cricket and all sport, and would run away from the ball if forced to play. Once they asked me to be a linesman in football, but I did not know what that meant and cared even less, so just lay down and fell asleep. They never asked me again.
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When the girls in our class did PT, we boys had to just sit in the boys’ changing room amusing ourselves all afternoon. There was much talk about homosexuality, and David, the boy I had a crush on, used to always have his arm around another boy, who kept telling David how handsome he was, ‘more handsome than Gary’ in the class above, whom I also had a crush on. They used to play strip-poker (though it never went very far, usually just taking off a tie and undoing a few shirt-buttons), and even used to all go in the one toilet cubicle together and lock themselves in. I was not part of any of this and never found out what they did in there, though they came out arguing over who had won. I was loyal in my own way, as one day the PT teacher came in and asked why I was still sitting there thinking the others had gone home, but I never let on they were all in the toilet cubicle together.

The only clue I got as to what they might be doing was during the annual end-of-year dance when they cleared the main hall of chairs and put on rock’n’roll records – one of my rare chances to hear this type of music at the time, for my mother and grandparents disapproved of ‘this awful, rowdy American music for hooligans’. None of the boys were interested in dancing, so the girls jived with each other or teachers. I was sitting on one of the seats along the wall, but behind me a row of chairs had been placed facing the wall just to get them out of the way of the dance floor. David and another boy were sitting in these seats masturbating themselves and measuring their members with rulers to see who had the biggest erection. I glanced over my shoulder and saw what they were doing, pretending to be disgusted at such behavior, though I didn’t say anything and was secretly quite turned on.

On another occasion we were in the changing room with some boys from another class, and two of them were pretending to be wrestling, but were actually having sex with their shorts and vests on, and everyone knew it. They were not gay, because at least one of the boys had a girlfriend. On one occasion my brother and I wrestled in this way, fully clothed, but apart from that the nearest I got to a sexual experience was when one boy pretended to punch me in my private parts, but did it so softly it was almost a grope. I cannot help wondering if I had not been in such a trauma, had made friends and been part of the secret sexual rites, whether I too would have ‘gone through that phase’ and passed on to a heterosexual development.
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As it was I remembered with regret these lost opportunities for the rest of my life, and then heard about the teenage experiences of George and others. I became very bitter and twisted, especially when I learned that all the places I avoided in my teens were the very places where I could have made contact with the secret gay world. I lived or worked in London, which had the biggest gay scene in the country, yet rarely went to the West End, especially after dark.

We moved to Welwyn Garden City when I was 16, and even though a year later I got a job in London and commuted, I was always at home in Hertfordshire’s suburbia by 6 p.m.. I never entered public toilets, talked to strangers or accepted lifts even in my late teens, and since I had no friends of my own age, I was completely isolated and sexually frustrated. Once, coming home from my grandmother’s bungalow, an attractive young man in a sports car offered me a lift and as I got excited and opened my mouth to say: ‘Yes, thank you very much,’ my automatic pilot took control and the words: ‘No thank you’ came out quite involuntarily. No doubt it saved me from all sorts of dangers, but this brainwashing also prevented me having the fun George and most other gay teenagers enjoyed.

On my fifteenth birthday my best friend, Michael, had died in hospital from injuries sustained when a car hit him while he was crossing a road the night before. I was devastated, because he was my one remaining true friend, having left the others at my old school which I’d left two years previously. All my old school friends lived miles away in Wood Green, and I knew nobody my own age, and so my mother had to invite all my cousins and people from her work or I would have had very few people at my twentyfirst birthday party. Only two people from my work managed to come all the way from London.

My only pal during those lonely teenage years was my brother, Philip, who was four years younger. I immersed myself in the anti-nuclear weapons movement, going on illegal Committee of 100 and legal Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstrations. The illegal ones were more exciting, though I never actually got arrested till the big anti-Vietnam War demo in Grosvenor Square in the late 1960s. I took part in the big 1961 Trafalgar Square sit-down, however, and demonstrations against the visit to London of the fascist Queen Frederika of Greece.

During one of these organized by the Committee of 100 we outflanked police lines blocking off Admiralty Arch and The Mall from Trafalgar Square and charged Buckingham Palace from Piccadilly across Green Park. As the mob reached the high walls of the Palace gardens, demonstrators helped others try to climb over. I got up as far as the huge spikes and thought better of it, though one guy actually got over into the gardens. I don’t know quite what we’d have done if we had all got over, we never actually thought ahead that far.

Committee of 100 demonstrations became very spontaneous and increasingly violent as anarchists and trouble-makers attached themselves and tried to take over. In the beginning they were non-violent, self-disciplined and well organized. I also went on the Aldermaston marches, and ‘Gipsy’ Dave was a neighbor. He was a friend of folk-singer Donovan who lived in nearby Hatfield, and Dave called round to my house one day to ask for details about the Aldermaston March.Â

I worked at CND headquarters for 6 years, and on the 1963 Aldermaston March was faced with my boss, CND Organizing Secretary Peggy Duff, trying to stop the March diverting to Warren Row, a few hundred yards off the route, where a Committee of 100 off-shoot, Spies For Peace, had revealed there was a top-secret Regional Seat of Government bunker. I wondered if I would lose my job as I looked at Peggy, then defiantly turned left to go to the forbidden bunker.  A sort of half-hearted sit-down took place on top of the entrance, but most marchers wandered back to the main route after a quick look. In her book, ‘Left, Left, Left’, Peggy later admitted the decision to try to stop the marchers looking at Warren Row was wrong, but CND at the time was a stickler for legality. David Bolton, editor of CND’s newspaper ‘Sanity’, published the location of the RSG, and all the office staff, including myself, had to sit down and go through thousands of copies with a black marker in a vain attempt to obliterate the offending name Warren Row.

The March was famous for its musicians and songs, the most popular of which were the CND ‘anthem’ ‘The H-Bomb’s Thunder’, ‘Ban The Bloody H-Bomb’ (sung with real feeling and gusto), the Scots’ marchers’ ‘Ding Dong Dollar’ (adapted from ‘She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain’ and ‘Ye Cannae Shove Your Granny Off A Bus’), plus the Committee of 100s ‘anthem’ ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’.  ‘Why do we always sing that, when we always are moved in the end?’ complained one demonstrator.

I also became treasurer of the local CND group, who were nearly all middle-aged and middle class. My mother was horrified when two women from the local CND group first turned up on our doorstep in response to my application to join. ‘They are all Communists,’ she said, which of course wasn’t true at all. Nearly all the members of my local group were respectable Labour Party members. But my mother had been brought up in a working-class Conservative household of policemen, where anything vaguely anti-Establishment was frowned on as subversive.

So back in the mid-1950s, whilst I was still going to the Saturday morning pictures to watch ‘Flash Gordon’ and sing along with Uncle Bill and his Wurlitzer organ the ‘ABC Minors’ Song’ and the latest hits of the day (‘I Love to Go a Wandering’, ‘Over the Mountains Over the Sea’, etc.), George, only two years older, was already sexually active and beginning some remarkable encounters which will remain just gay sexual fantasies for myself and many others.

Apart from the relationship with his stepbrother, there was a gay encounter with a uniformed soldier in an alley outside a cinema in Glasgow, and he was orally raped by an on-duty London policeman. Although it seems George had a very exciting teenage sexually, it was a hard life, and when you are cold, homeless and hungry, being raped by a policeman and threatened with arrest for vagrancy if you don’t submit can be, as George said, more of a frightening nightmare than a gay fantasy come true.

George had his first gay sexual encounter around 1955, was on the gay scene in Glasgow in his early and mid teens, came on the London gay scene about 1959, meeting me in 1970 after about 15 years of gay experiences. By contrast, I left school in 1961 and had my first sexual experience (gay) in 1967 at the age of 22, so I only had three years experience when we met. No wonder he always seemed a generation older than me, being familiar with a gay London scene I never knew. George was 27 when we met, and although I was 25 in years, in terms of George’s sexual experience I was only 15 sexually, and still very much in the experimental stage when everything was new to me.
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4. GLASGOW AND GEORGE’S LETTERS TO ROY

While George was a teenager his father died of cancer. Seeing him in Intensive Care with tubes going into his arm and nose was an experience George never got over for the rest of his life, instilling in him an absolute terror of hospitals. He told me once he felt guilty because he could not bear to listen to his father describing the pain he experienced when passing water, and found it very difficult to look at him in that condition.

After their father died, George and his sisters called their stepmother ‘the merry widow’, she seemed so unaffected by her bereavement. George went to live with his father’s sister, Aunty Rose, and her husband Norrie. Because he had no parents, he did not get the opportunity to stay on at school, obtain qualifications and perhaps go to university. He was to regret this later in life, feeling circumstances had deprived him of the education, qualifications and career opportunities he should have had. Certainly he educated himself to university level in literature and the arts, but without qualifications it was useless to him in furthering his career.

All his life George was surrounded by people of a lower intellectual level than himself. This was very frustrating, since he could not debate the finer points of psychology and the arts, which were his favorite subjects. However, he did meet a few people with whom he felt able to discuss such things, and who he did not consider to be ‘piss-elegant snobs’. After coming down to London around 1959/1960, he used to return to Glasgow for lengthy periods, and during these visits he used to write long, intellectual and very witty letters to Roy, a friend he met in London.

Roy was something of an enigma in George’s life. Seemingly a harmless, eccentric character who wore a long, reddish colored wig to hide his baldness and who used to scavenge in skips and dustbins around Notting Hill to find things to sell, Roy also had a sinister side to his nature. He dabbled in the occult and hypnotism, and George claimed he was involved with some revolutionary political group.

According to a letter George wrote his sister Betty, Roy was a very significant figure in this group, and George at one point feared for his life. He seemed to think this group was very powerful, the implication being that it had links with the KGB and, along with CND and other mass protest movements and revolutionary groups, George felt it was all part of a Soviet plot to overthrow democracy in this country. This fear grew into a paranoia, which was fueled by the belief George firmly held to his dying day that Roy and others had hypnotized him whilst he slept in order to make him obey the will of this revolutionary group, to do things which went against his nature. Roy also supplied George and others with amphetamines and possibly other drugs, and I have recently read that an ex-CIA agent said it is possible to hypnotize a suitable subject with the aid of drugs and make them do things normally against their nature, even to assassinate someone.

In the early to mid 1960s, however, George seemed to trust Roy and had an affinity with him regarding films, books and the theater. His letters to Roy all have a very pessimistic flavor about them, indeed George revelled in a negative philosophy.

He wrote things like: ‘I luxuriate in the pathos and tragedy of it all’; ‘If I wasn’t going through the process of self-destruction I don’t know what I’d do. It’s the only thing that keeps me going’;  ‘I shall be pleased to have a letter from you on the condition that you don’t tell me to cheer up…. I enjoy being pessimistic’, finishing up one letter giving his regards to two people ‘As to everyone else, send them my indifference.’

Other quotes from his letters to Roy include: ‘an acquaintance told me my sense of humour was perfectly vile and unbalanced, showing symptoms of instability. Of course I agreed with him entirely…. These remarks produced the desired effect… and my critical acquaintance soon vanished with a vacuous look on his face, never to bother me furthermore with his tedious monologue of conversation’;  ‘If there is no scandal when I return, then I shall certainly make some…. After all, one must give the scandalmongers something to talk about. It’s all they live for.’; ‘There must be something terribly wrong with me today, to feel so gay… a strange symptom and not at all good for my melancholic and pessimistic personality. I do not feel comfortable unless I’m disturbed or unhappy.’

Lamenting  the decline of standards in culture he writes that ‘The peasants… should be treated as… inferior and incapable of dominating the taste of the generation. Only then can art and culture and entertainment be raised to a higher sphere. Until then, we must bear the mediocre trash which is taken for culture today and suffer in silence.’ He discusses the Ibsen play ‘John Gabriel Borkman’ seen at the Glasgow Citizen’s Theater  ‘set in an atmosphere of gloom, grey shadows and death. (Just the right atmosphere for me.)’;”work is the refuge of people who have nothing whatever to do… I have no time to go to work. I am far too busy with my life to waste precious golden hours of youth in a factory or stuffy office. I am a lover of freedom’;  ‘I must have conflict in my life, and if I don’t have it, I create it… All this of course is masochistic… I am aware of a deep streak of masochism within me. I like to suffer’; ‘if we see a fault or defect in something, we… cannot ignore it.. so we must point it out.’ This remained true of George all his life, and he suffered for his candidness. People, and especially employers, do not always appreciate having their faults pointed out so bluntly. From George’s point of view he was just giving them good advice, for the benefit of both themselves and others.

Having a short story rejected by a publishing competition he wrote:  ‘The judge/editor informed me that my work had talent, style, insight, wit etc. and urged me to continue practising as I had the necessary ingredients of a writer. However he added that the story I had written was rejected because I “wrote of things which should not be thought of”. He advised me to turn to more common and conventional characters. I admit my story was of unconventional aspect as it dealt with isolationism, sexual impotence, sado-masochistic fantasies, and mental instability… A writer’s job, in my estimation, is to portray the truth, and that was all I did in my story. I only wrote of what I observed or experienced in life. If what I write is harsh, it is because life is harsh. And how dare they advise me to resort to common, conventional themes. All my characters will be individuals, never members of the herd. Conventional people have always bored me and I could never condescend to write about them, not even for financial gain. I can only write of what interests me.’

Discussing his poetry, George admits to being ‘rather shy… The fact is even in my lightest pieces I have put in so much of myself that I am embarrassed to disclose it to a number of people. The themes of my poems and stories are often sombre and they usually end in gloom, loneliness, despair or death. Why? Because that is how life appears to me at the end. Someone once asked me why my poetry was so sad. I could not give an answer, but it is simply this: I cannot paint in a tone of gold what I see in a tone of grey.’

On religion: ‘I believe in God, but I find the Bible too paradoxical to be authentic. For example, I was reading Genesis the other day (looking for faults rather than faith). It states that on the first day there was light, and on the fourth day God made the Sun, Moon and stars. Where did the light come from then on the first day?… The most unreasonable aspect of religion, is its attitude towards sex. How much greater would human happiness be if the gratification of the sexual instinct had never been looked upon as wicked. Sexual shame is the most destructive element in religion, and frequently the cause of neurosis. If you despise the flesh, you distort the soul. Sex is a natural impulse, as common as the desire for food and sleep: it must be satisfied.’

Describing listening to classical music: ‘How often have you heard me say that I am incapable of emotion? Well late this evening, alone in my bedroom I was sitting listening to the radio, and heard Rubinstein playing Chopin. It had been quite some time since I last listened to piano music, and the sound of the delicate ballade made me weep like a fool. It is strange how I can surrender my emotions to a work of art, such as a piece of music, a play, or a film, yet in life I am so cold, aloof and indifferent. If only life were a Chopin ballade. It is difficult to describe how a piece of music can affect the senses. Perhaps it was the tender, delicate playing of Rubinstein, together with the sad, solitary expression of Chopin, which made me cry so silently. It sounded so beautiful, it hurt. I cannot remember ever feeling such a profound sensation before, and I don’t think I could experience it again.
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‘But I don’t know what’s wrong with me tonight. I seem sad. Perhaps it’s because of a brief encounter I had when I was out earlier this evening. I accidentally bumped into an attractive boy, as I turned a corner on my way home. (It was entirely my fault. I was doing the gallop.) I apologised, but instead of going on our separate ways we remained looking at each other. He fascinated me, especially his eyes, and he was no more than 18. We both knew – and of course it happened. He walked home part of the way with me afterwards and we had a talk about various things. He was particularly interested in London, and he refused to believe I was Scots, because of my Southern accent. Just talking to him made me feel light-hearted. And then we said goodbye, and went on our separate ways. It all seems so like a dream as I look back on it, three hours or so later. How strange it is. We meet, and then suddenly it seems that we must part forever. But that is the way of the twilight world. There is no love. Of course he means nothing to me in retrospect. Already the features of his face have blurred in my memory. But I cannot help wondering what life will do to him. In the twilight world, we call it a gay life. And it is a gay life, yet a terrible one too, because there is no love… I cannot love… I will always be a stranger… a little in love with death, since death is the ultimate escape from time… I did not mean to be so egotistical… only I can understand what I am trying to express in words.’
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On literature:  ‘“Of Human Bondage” by Wm. Somerset Maugham… is his greatest work and deserves to be called a masterpiece.’

In both Glasgow and London George went ‘on the game’, becoming what is now known as a ‘rent boy’ in order to survive. He has told me of the times he earned money ‘on the bash’ in Glasgow to give to his sister and her large family. On one occasion he bought a couple of rashers of bacon with some money he had earned, and after the kids had been fed and were tucked up in bed, George and his sister Betty fried the two rashers for a special midnight treat. As the delicious smell of bacon wafted through the house, one of the children got up and wandered into the kitchen to investigate the smell, obviously hoping for a ‘piece’n’ham’ (Glaswegian slang for a bacon sandwich).

‘Maw, I’m thirsty. Can I hae a drink of water?’ whined the little girl, eyeing the frying pan and sniffing hopefully. She was given the glass of water and promptly chased back to bed by George and Betty.

‘I had to wank off an old man for that bacon’, said George to me years later, ‘I wasn’t going to let some spoiled little brat have it. I could only afford two rashers.’

George’s London flat-mate, John the lorry driver, was a regular client, and George eventually moved into his furnished room in Belgrave Road, Victoria. In Glasgow George received from John a letter saying he had put George’s friend and fellow hustler Rose up for the night. ‘He said nothing happened between them, which I shall pretend to believe when I write back to John, but I am not so foolish to swallow such a statement’, wrote George. ‘I know John, and I know Rose and I know what happened when he took her back….. If I find out she has been trespassing on my property or offering her services at reduced prices I shall be furious. I’ve no time for ten-bob boots or shuck-ups. Some people will do it for peanuts.’

George then gives a description of the Glasgow gay scene and some of its more colorful characters:

‘There are several gay pubs and two coffee-bars up here where the gay crowd congregate, usually at weekends. I know almost everyone in this twilight world, and it amuses them all to hear of how bold the bitches are in London. Of course I tell them about the gay people we encounter in London, such as Rose, Daphne, Mad Myra, Gwen, Fifi, Red Riding Hood and Nellie the Elephant; everyone thinks I’m exaggerating when I describe the behaviour of these bitches.

‘Of course, there are several “star personalities” in the twilight world here too, who make their dramatic entrances in the gay circles. Perhaps it would amuse you to have a description of some of them. I shall start with the bitches.

‘Dandelion. A bitch about 28 years old, although she pretends to be 24. An acidulous creature, and as vain as Fifi. Don’t ask me how she got her name.

‘Glamorous Gladys. A hideous old queen who does drag numbers. A flamboyant extrovert. Of course she and I hated each other instinctively from the first moment we set eyes on each other.

‘Arabella. A bitch of 24, who likes everyone to think she is wicked. A regular whore who sometimes hustles in drag, but she is basically a likeable individual.

‘Fidgety Flo. A middle-aged queen who is a registered drug-addict. She has a “twitch” and as her name implies, she fidgets frequently. Her movements are nervous and her smile a contortion. Rather pathetic creature.

‘Talulah. A twenty year old bitch, who looks “bona” in drag. She has a mouth like a manhole and can hardly stop talking. She’s a good laugh though.

‘Gumsy Grace. A vile old queen with no teeth. An alcoholic. Keeps to herself but she’s “all eyes”. Scandal says she’s a copper’s nark.

‘Mad Hilda. Aged about 28-30. Egocentric. Lives in fantasy-world of her own making.

‘Short-sighted Cynthia. Aged 22. As blind as a bat but she won’t wear spectacles. She has to peer into your face when she wants to recognise you. She can’t distinguish between a handsome young bloke or a hideous old geezer, so she finds it hard to make conquests.

‘Every month there is a drag show at the “El Guerro”. This month, three mental bitches did drag numbers. Talulah sang “I’m a Woman”. Arabella sand “I’m the Whore of Paradise Alley”. Glamorous Gladys (that lovely lady) added a bit of vulgarity as she sang “I Love Him On The Whole”.

‘What a “drag” show. It was out of this world. The performers looked like 3 painted whores who had dried up. Watching them was like a fantasy in nightmare surrealism. When Glamorous Gladys finished her number I whispered (loud enough for Gladys to hear) “Pathetic”. “You’re only jealous” she retaliated. Imagine me being jealous of an ugly old boot about 60, with the most monstrous mouth on Earth. Later in the evening as I made my exit, I passed her, looked piteously into her face and quoted a phrase from Richard III “Poor painted queen”. She was fuming.’

On the pop music of the day, he writes of The Rolling Stones latest number one hit ’19th Nervous Breakdown’ describing it as ‘terrific’.
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Apart from these letters to Roy, written after George had already made his permanent home in London, I have very little idea of his late teenage years in Glasgow. He worked for a while in an office of a company which made galvanized corrugated iron sheets I believe, a phrase he remembered because he had written or typed it out so often. He also worked in a solicitor’s office either in Glasgow or when he first came down to London, work which he found quite interesting.

As to the gay scene in Glasgow I know little apart from what I quoted above. From the age of 12 or 13 he seems to have met partners in Glasgow cottages, cinemas and other places. It seems he always headed straight for wherever he was warned not to go.

George lived life to the full from a very early age, reading the classics, seeing plays by Ibsen, Chekhov, etc., enjoying classical music and seeing good films. In view of his working-class background in the cultural desert of Glasgow tenements and housing schemes, amidst a family and environment where nobody shared any of these interests, it is all the more remarkable.

That someone could develop such an intellectual understanding of culture, the arts and human psychology without a college or university education, in such unpromising surroundings, just reinforces my belief in some sort of reincarnation. George must surely have first learnt to appreciate these things via a previous life of his Soul Group.

It must have been shortly after his father died that George first made his way down to London, probably by hitching. Certainly he hitched there and back many times, exploring cities like Manchester en route. However, he told me of one occasion when he was traveling on the London-Glasgow all night coach and found himself sitting next to an attractive youth near the back. Blankets were supplied on these coaches, and George said quite a lot of hanky-panky went on between him and this boy underneath the blankets whilst the rest of the passengers slept a few feet away quite unaware. Yet another gay fantasy which George actually experienced.

Before going to London, his family pleaded with him to stay in Glasgow. London was a dangerous place, they told him. Above all, if he must go, he should at all costs stay away from wicked Soho.

True to his nature, George arrived in London – and promptly headed straight for Soho.

5. THE ‘SWINGING SIXTIES’ IN LONDON

Having arrived in London, George eventually found himself a furnished room near Clapham North tube station. He easily took the ‘culture shock’ in his stride, adapting to the London life-style as though born to it. He soon discovered ‘Harrington’s’ pie and mash shop in the Wandsworth Road, which remained a favorite eating establishment of his till the day he died. As well as pie and mash, he lapped up all the arts and culture London had to offer – the theater, opera, art galleries, cinema as well as the libraries.

In search of the Royal Shakespeare Company soon after his arrival in London, he once ventured on the Central Line as far east as Stratford before realizing the East End London district was not Stratford-upon-Avon. From a Glasgow perspective, both Stratfords are way down South and therefore not easily distinguishable.

Speakers’ Corner at Marble Arch became a favorite haunt of George’s, where he met most of his friends and acquaintances, including those who remained friends throughout his life, becoming mine too. Gay men from the provinces tended to congregate there, and in Fortes’ tea rooms across the road in Oxford Street.

He explored Soho and the West End, finding Piccadilly Circus and the surrounding area one of the most exciting places imaginable. He once told me of a film which first determined him to come to London. It was called ‘John and Julie’ and was made in color in 1955, all about two children who run away to London to see the Coronation. George would have only been 12 at the time, but the images of the capital in that film stayed with him till they became reality for him about 4 years later.
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Times were often very hard for George. In those days, you were evicted from furnished rooms if the landlord or landlady found out you were gay, so George was frequently homeless and had to ‘do skippers’, slang for sleeping rough. With no job, he was too proud and independent to seek National Assistance, as Social Security was then called. The only time he did apply, homeless and literally starving, he was refused any help. He was thus forced to go ‘on the game’ as he had done occasionally in Glasgow, and at Marble Arch many of the others were also part of the male hustling ‘sisterhood’.

George was warned to steer clear of a male hustler with bleached blond hair known as ‘Rose’, who was thought to be trouble. True to his nature, George immediately sought out Rose and they struck up a life-long friendship. As very close friends in a platonic sense, they shared many hard times together.

In a furnished room in Islington where George once lived, he and Rose sometimes sneaked in ‘clients’, but they had to perform to the accompaniment of nails being banged into coffins from the neighboring undertakers. Rose went one further when he went back with a client to a shack on some wasteland near London Airport. On opening the door, there in the center of the room was an open casket, and the client told Rose to get in. Thinking his number was up, Rose did as he was told, keeping his legs over the sides in case the client tried to slam the lid shut on him. However, after helping him fulfil his necrophiliac fantasies, Rose was generously paid and driven back to the West End safe and sound, but a little wiser and more cautious in future. On another occasion a client had a heart attack and died on top of Rose whilst they were ‘on the job’ in an hotel bedroom. Rose left, and apparently told the desk clerk not to bother with bringing the occupant of the room breakfast in bed.
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Sometimes George had to hide in a cupboard whilst Rose did business with a client, and on one occasion George hid beneath the bed passing jam sandwiches up to Rose who ate them surreptitiously without the client noticing. They were both often starving, and Rose lived in a coal cellar off the Bayswater Road for a time. He had to arrive late at night and leave early in the morning so the residents of the house did not see him sneaking up and down the steps from the street leading to the basement area where the cellar was located.

George knew a gay vicar at St Martins-in-the-Fields, and sometimes when they had nowhere else to go they were allowed to sleep in the pews of the church after it had been locked up for the night. This was before the homeless were offered shelter in the crypt. They used to wash in the font in the morning. Rose knew another gay vicar who was a client of his in Kensington. A pop star of the day was also one of his regular clients.

Having both been taken back to a posh hotel by one client, they were leaving early the next morning, Rose wearing worn-out winkle-picker shoes with holes in the soles which let in water. As they were walking along the hotel corridor, they saw pairs of shoes left outside the doors overnight for cleaning. Coming across an expensive pair of brogues which looked about Rose’s size, he tried them on and found they fitted perfectly. They often wondered what havoc the guest in that room must have created with the hotel management when they received back a pair of scuffed old winkle-pickers full of holes.

One cold night when they had nowhere to stay, George and Rose discovered an unlocked basement with some boilers which ran the central heating system for the building. They crept behind these so no-one could discover them, and fell asleep hugging each other for warmth.

Next morning they crept out of the basement, and as they got out into the streets around Bayswater, people seemed to be staring at them. George looked at Rose and immediately saw why: his face was black as the proverbial soot which was covering it, and his shoulder length blond hair and clothes were also contaminated. George was in a similar state, his red hair blackened with soot. They quickly made for Notting Hill Gate tube station where they cleaned up in the gents’ washroom.

The male hustlers used to strike up close friendships with some of the girls on the game, and on one occasion two of the women had a voyeuristic client who just wanted to watch them ‘perform’ with another man. The girls asked George and Rose if they would be willing to simulate heterosexual sex with them for the benefit of the client, but George could not bring himself to even pretend to do something so against his nature, so he kept look-out by the door of the hotel room, whilst Rose put on a show with the two female prostitutes, and apparently the client was quite happy even though Rose was unable to even get aroused.

However, on another occasion Rose actually did manage to impregnate a female prostitute who wanted to have a baby, something George could never speak about to me except to say that Rose was more butch than he acted and had ‘betrayed’ his sexual orientation, or words to that effect. After George died Rose let it slip out in an unguarded moment that he had a son he had never met presumably walking around somewhere,Â
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In those days it was easy to get clients. Just walking slowly up the Bayswater Road in a pair of white trousers was sufficient. George always prided himself on giving value for money, and even when homeless and starving, not having eaten for several days, he had his principles, never taking from a client more than he knew they could afford.

Some of the characters George and Rose knew in those days are only names to me – Red Riding Hood, Ginger Terry, Angel, Mother, Miss Smith. Other camp names read more like a shopping list: Coffee, Sugar, Tangerine, for example. The latter was short of stature and lived in West Ham. He would sit in the gardens in Leicester Square doing his knitting in the mornings waiting for Rose and George. He always brought apples and sandwiches, which they ate together.

Some of the camp bitches I actually met, like Nellie the Elephant, Fifi, Mad Myra and Big Bertha.  We ran into Mad Myra, who originally came from Glasgow like George, off the Edgware Road one day early in our relationship. George rushed us away before Myra could let slip that they both used to be male hustlers. George and I once ran into Bertha as we walked along Park Lane late one evening. He was strolling in Hyde Park by the railings, his large frame clothed in a sort of ankle length white smock, like some fallen angel.

‘The police have just pulled me dear,’ he told George. ‘They asked me what I was doing in the Park at this time of night, and I told them I was looking for a man.’

Most bitches were more discreet, but many spent time in jail, including some of George’s close friends. Somehow George managed to avoid this experience. Our friend Lena we visited in Pentonville, my one and only visit to a prison. Rose was once arrested in drag along with some female prostitutes and ended up in Holloway (women’s) Prison, before they discovered he was a man.

Rose was conscripted into the Army in the days of National Service, despite telling them he was gay. He claims he had a whale of a time sleeping in a different barrack bed every night till the Army threw him out. ‘Well I told you I was gay, but you wouldn’t believe me’ was Rose’s response.

In the days before the 1967 Act of Parliament which partly legalized homosexuality, gays had their own language known as the ‘polari’ with which they could safely converse in public. It was introduced to the general public by the characters ‘Jules and Sandy’ played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick on radio’s ‘Round The Horne’, but George told me the meaning of many of these funny sounding words. A passive or effeminate gay man was an ‘homy-polone’, ‘HP’ or ‘bitch’. A ‘polone’ was a real woman, and ‘sharpies’ or ‘lily law’ were the police. The language was a mixture of Italian (such as ‘manjari’ for food, ‘capella’ for hat), theatrical slang and backward pronunciation – such as ‘ecaf’ or ‘eek’ for ‘face’. Words like ‘naff’ and ‘cod’ for something unattractive have now passed into more general usage. I have since learnt that ‘naff’ actually stood for ‘not available for fucking’, meaning a totally straight man. So ‘he’s naff’ would mean the guy was unobtainable for gay sex.

George and Rose once lived near each other in Bayswater, George sharing a room with a female prostitute named Roxy. Rose shared with fellow male hustler Sugar, who wore a white polka dot flying jacket with black stars on it. Nearby was either the old American embassy or some building attached to it, and Rose and George sometimes got G.I.s from this building as clients. They would take them back to George’s rooming house and sneak them into either the big bathroom or the toilet, trying to avoid Roxy’s boyfriend who took potshots at the clients with his airgun. American G.I.s were fine, but Australians were apparently bad payers, according to Rose, though Roxy’s friend Meat-Cleaver Kate (so called because her face resembled this implement) went with them, glad of any business she could get.
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One evening Rose and George were walking in Hyde Park when they spotted Coffee sitting on a seat with a client, who was panicking and called to them for help. They discovered Coffee had fallen into a deep sleep, being thoroughly exhausted from the effect of drugs and lack of sleep. He had actually fallen asleep with his hand firmly clasped round the client’s member in the middle of giving him a hand-job, and no amount of shaking or shouting could wake Coffee up. The client was frantic in case the police came along and found him in this compromising position, so George and Rose with great difficulty eventually managed to prise Coffee’s hand open, but apparently they almost had to break his fingers to do it.

Not all the bitches who congregated at Marble Arch were on the game, and though the hustlers sometimes criticized those who ‘gave it away for nothing’, there was a camaraderie between all those who met up at Speakers’ Corner, both gay and straight. George often spoke fondly of Aggie, an elderly religious woman who, bible in hand, spoke there for years.

One day George and Rose were talking with an attractive acquaintance at Marble Arch, and a friend of theirs whose real name was Arthur kept saying to Rose:

‘Introduce me to your friend’.

In the end Rose momentarily interrupted his conversation with the young man to gesture impatiently with his thumb over his shoulder to Arthur, saying by way of introduction in an annoyed tone:

‘Oh, this is Nellie the Elephant.’

One of their acquaintances around this time was Quentin Crisp, who then lived in a room off the Tottenham Court Road. They used to go back to his room and chat, or sip tea together in a cafe. George was something of a wit himself, and kept a book of his own and other people’s philosophical, funny and clever quotations, so he must have enjoyed Quentin’s company. One of my favorites from George’s book is the following:

‘The only time I was ever in bed with a woman was when I was born.’

London was full of characters in those days, but now, like Mr Crisp in his latter years, they only seem to be found in New York.

George and another friend from Marble Arch, Lena, used to sometimes drag up for fun, or to go to drag balls. George looked very pretty in drag – he had a small face, and with make-up and a wig could easily pass as a woman. Some bitches regularly hustled in drag, and two I later got to know had both adopted French-sounding names – Fifi and Andre. When George was in drag he went by the name of Gina, short for Georgina of course.

Close as George and Rose were, they often fell out with each other, but it never lasted long. There was the time Rose stole George’s Christmas pudding from the larder, an incident George often told me about. The strange thing is George never really liked Christmas pudding. In later years Rose’s partner, Neil, regularly made whole batches of enormous, rich, traditional Christmas puddings and George and I always got one, so I think Rose’s debt has been repaid many times over.
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On one occasion when George had a room just behind Leicester Square in Lisle Street (now part of Chinatown), Rose arrived late at night outside with a client but George would not open the door. Impatiently Rose bawled up at his window: ‘Open up, you fucking cow, I know you’re in there.’  So George got evicted from another furnished room.

Just around the corner in Gerrard Street (now the main street of Chinatown) above a shop on the corner of Macclesfield Street was ‘Bobby’s Bar’, a sort of early gay disco. This was one of the places George and Rose regularly frequented, to dance to the hits of the day. There were many other gay ‘dives’ in Soho, and also out in places like Chelsea and The Angel. Some were sleazy, some were so packed you could not move. Things went on then which, until the 1990s when unofficial ‘backrooms’ sprung up in many gay venues, would never have been tolerated so openly in the supposedly enlightened 70s and 80s.

George often said that as soon as the 1967 Sexual Offences Act was passed supposedly legalizing homosexuality under certain very restricted circumstances, the big clampdown started. Only insipid, respectable gay establishments were allowed under this Act, so all the rest had to be closed down, especially since they were now advertised in the new gay press. Before the 1967 Act only the initiated few knew of the existence of the various gay venues, so they got away with more. Other countries in Europe, and many states in the USA and Australia, had much more tolerant laws than our own, so Britain seems to be the only place where supposedly gay liberation directly brought about the closure of many venues where gay men used to meet.
The Biograph cinema in Victoria was one such place, and it was there I later met George. It vied with the Electric cinema in Portobello Road for the title of Britain’s oldest cinema. The Biograph opened in 1905, and was a meeting place for gay men for many decades till it was suddenly demolished without warning in the early 1980s. Sunday afternoons it would be packed out, and you would see a long line of men queuing outside before it opened. The innocent passer-by must have often wondered why two mediocre old films were so popular.

There used to be continuous shows consisting of two films with short intervals in between. There were no adverts, cartoons, trailers, shorts or newsreels. When it closed, a lot of people found their whole lives disrupted, with nowhere to go on Sunday afternoons, and the main London ‘social club’ for meeting other gay men gone. The things that went on in the dark rows of shaking seats were quite outrageous, but nobody minded, except perhaps the woman who walked out one day with white stuff all over her hat which wasn’t dropped by a passing pigeon, according to George, who saw how it got there from the row behind where she was sitting quite oblivious to what was going on around her. The staff all knew, from Flo in the Box Office to Tubby who sold ice-creams between films and shouted out: ‘Half-time, change partners’, or even more boldly: ‘Half-time, change hands’.

Even the police knew what went on there, and turned a blind eye. They have been known to tell gay men caught in the act in Victoria Station toilets to ‘go down the road to the Biograph if you want to do that sort of thing.’

So the sixties certainly ‘swung’ for George, Rose and many others, but this was not the case for all of us.

6. THE REBELLIOUS SIXTIES AND DISCOVERING THE GAY SCENE

For me the 1960s did not start swinging until very late, eight years into the decade in fact. I diverted my repressed sexual desires into first the anti-nuclear weapons and anti-war movement, and later into other leftwing causes, culminating in becoming a member of the hardline, Stalinist factions of the YCL (Young Communist League) and later the Communist Party itself. There were lots of reasons for this regression from pacifism to Stalinism, not least disillusionment with the Wilson Labour government elected in 1964 which then betrayed all its promises. The Vietnam War also confused the simple anti-nuclear weapons and anti-war stance of the peace movement, as many leftwingers sympathized strongly with the National Liberation Front (Vietcong) and took sides with them against what they saw as a U.S. imperialist war. I also came into contact, at CND office where I worked, with several Communist Party members and sympathizers, and was undoubtedly influenced by them.

Another very influential factor in my becoming a Communist was my first two trips abroad, both thanks to CND and both to Socialist countries. In 1966 I ventured out of the UK for the very first time on Youth CND’s ‘Project 67′ holiday by train to Moscow and Leningrad, passing thru East Germany and Poland on the way. I was very impressed by the Soviet Union, and by what little I saw of East Berlin from the train window. One of my traveling companions, who must have influenced me a lot, was a middle-aged Greek-Cypriot Communist tailor named Nicos whose lifelong ambition had been to visit Moscow and he lavishly praised almost everything we saw. Seeing a new housing estate as we passed thru West Germany he pointed excitedly out of the window and exclaimed:

‘Look at those new houses, it must be East Germany, the workers’ paradise,’ but he said very little when we saw the grim reality of the actual border with its fences and watchtowers, except to express deep disappointment that the border guards of the German Democratic Republic didn’t speak Greek, ‘the international language’ according to Nicos. In Russia itself, he refused to pay his fare on any of the buses, saying ‘tourists go free in the workers’ paradise’. He got very dirty looks from other passengers dropping their fares into the ‘honesty boxes.’

Two years later, as a leaving present from CND headquarters where I had worked for six years, I and Sheila, another staff member who was leaving, were offered a free holiday in the GDR (East Germany) courtesy of the East German Peace Council (Friedensrat der DDR). These invitations were sent to British trade unionists, peace groups, etc. every year. Sheila and I had little money and hitched most of the way to Berlin and back. We arrived a few days before the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. I was very impressed with everything I saw in the GDR, not least its extremely open and liberated gay scene at that time. It was so open, even straight members of our delegation noticed it and remarked on it. I met someone in an outrageous gay coffee bar next to the ‘G’ (pronounced ‘gay’) Bar pub, and as we walked hand-in-hand down Friedrichstrasse without anyone blinking an eyelid, he stopped a woman in the street and asked her to translate for him: ‘Your friend wants to know if it’s OK for him to come back and spend the night with you in your hotel,’ she said, quite unembarrassed. I replied: ‘Yes,’ and so had a very pleasant night. In London at the time I could have been arrested for walking down the street hand-in-hand with another man, and certainly for what went on in the Mocca coffee bar in Friedrichstrasse. The charge would have been ‘public indecency’ or something similar.

In 1966 on my first visit to the Soviet Union I had been a Labour Party member, fast becoming disillusioned with the Wilson government. After my trip I soon decided I might as well leave the Labour Party, who called each other ‘comrade’, were committed by their Constitution to ‘common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange’ and who sung ‘The Red Flag’ promising to keep it flying here but didn’t carry out Socialism when in government. I decided, therefore, to join the real thing.

It did not seem such a great leap of ideology, just switching to a Party which intended to practice what it preached from one which didn’t. So I became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, or to be precise, initially its youth wing, the Young Communist League. We used to meet in an outhouse of a huge, affluent West Hampstead mansion, where Ann, the daughter of the occupants, lived with her Irish boyfriend. We were a hardline Stalinist faction within the YCL, and anti-Stalinists called Ann ‘Madame Mao’, a name she detested being pro-Soviet and anti-Maoist.
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I was already a hardline Stalinist by my second foreign trip in 1968, and I was overjoyed at the news that revisionist Czechoslovakia had been invaded by East Germany, the Soviet Union and three other Warsaw Pact countries. As a member of a CND delegation I had to button my lip somewhat, but Sheila was well aware of my views and said that I would make excellent cannon fodder for Nazism or Communism, I was so gullible. Even the British Peace Committee delegates (the BPC was a Communist-front peace organization, part of the Soviet led World Peace Council) followed the British Communist line and condemned the invasion of Czechoslovakia. The British Communist daily, The Morning Star, was unavailable in the GDR after the invasion because of its anti-Soviet line.

I returned from the GDR in 1968 glowing with praise for that country, which from then on I saw as the ideal Socialist state, ‘a steel fortress of Socialism’ as I described it. As VIP visitors we had been guests of honor on the platform of a huge political rally in Marx-Engels Platz in East Berlin, which ostensibly was to condemn Germany’s Nazi past but in practice was a justification for the invasion of Czechoslovakia. We were also taken on a tour of the Brandenburg Gate and nearby ‘anti-fascist wall’ or ‘Wall of Peace’, where we climbed a dais with a GDR National People’s Army officer and stared at Westerners a few yards away on a similar dais near the Reichstag staring back at us. It was very surrealistic.

I was so impressed with my visit to the GDR, not least by the extremely liberated 1968 gay scene in East Berlin, that the GDR became my model Socialist society, and I wrote my GDR hosts in the Peace Council for a color picture of the Stalinist GDR leader Walter Ulbricht, which then had pride-of-place in my bedroom for years.
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The influence of all these events and the people I came into contact with drove me into the arms of the YCL and CP, and Stalin to me appeared a sort of heroic, father figure who had tried to bring about a new golden age of Communist equality and justice by brute force. George analyzed me later and said I needed something bigger than myself to believe in.

I regularly listened to the English-language broadcasts of Radio Moscow, Radio Tirana (Albania), Radio Prague and Radio Berlin International (East Germany), and lapped up their propaganda.

This complete surrender to a higher authority warped my true pacifist beliefs, so that I was willing to justify war and even some of Stalin’s purges as being ‘for the good of the cause’. I told myself that ‘the end justifies the means’. A very perceptive woman instructor on a GPO training course, who became familiar with my Stalinist and pro-capital punishment views of the time, told me I was very bitter, and that I would meet someone and fall in love eventually, be it a man or a woman, and my views would change. She was absolutely right. It was as though this warped, bitter period of my life was a direct result of being starved of romantic/sexual love and affection all thru my adolescence and well into my twenties.

In 1967 the Sexual Offences Act was passed which legalized homosexuality in certain very restricted and closely defined circumstances. In effect it only legalized it for gay male couples over 21 already in a committed relationship and living together. Basically, all gay sex between men remained illegal unless they were both over 21, neither were serving in the armed forces and they magically found themselves alone together in a self-contained residence. Virtually any way they could possibly meet and indicate to each other they were sexually interested remained  illegal until the 21st Century, and if a third person was present anywhere in the residence an offense was still being committed even if the two men were in a locked bedroom. This meant the type of gay clubs with backrooms (legal all over Europe, in the US, Australia and elsewhere) remained illegal in Britain, despite their 1990s flourishing in London and some other cities. They then still had to be undercover and surreptitious as the police could close them down at any time, so purpose built backrooms with proper facilities such as private cubicles and safe sex material did not exist here right into the 21st Century.

Moreover, backrooms could not be openly advertised as such, so only those on the gay scene knew of their existence. Those on the fringes of the gay world were therefore still forced into the few remaining public toilets and dangerous open spaces.  Any attempt to approach another man with a view to a sexual or romantic relationship was still deemed ‘importuning for an immoral purpose’ and ‘pretty policemen’ were sent out to entrap gay men and make easy arrests. Not until the 21st Century were these laws liberalized, due largely to EU decrees outlawing discrimination.

Despite the very limited and grudging nature of the law change, the 1967 Act was justly hailed as a great reform if only because it ended the ‘blackmailers’ charter’ by which all gay men could be threatened with being handed over to the law if they did not pay up. It also prevented gay couples being evicted just for living together.

The publicity surrounding the change in the law was considerable, and the London ‘Evening Standard’ published a series of articles on homosexuality, with descriptions of how gay men met each other in various locations around the capital. I read all this with avid interest and growing frustration, for all the locations were described in tantalizing detail but were not identified. I read of a cinema ‘where you cannot see the film for men getting up and leaving in pairs’ and of a wood in North London popular with less attractive gay men because it was dark, and I felt more miserable and isolated than ever. Here was I at 22, still a virgin and, as far as I knew, I had never even met another gay man, yet all around me other gay men were apparently having a whale of a time because they knew about the secret places this newspaper reporter had somehow sought out. I had no way of knowing the cinema was the Biograph in Victoria or the wood was located on Hampstead Heath and visited by gay men at night.

On a holiday with my mother in Blackpool that summer we were sitting on the beach and she started daydreaming aloud about when I got married and had children, and what sort of girl I might marry. I then told her I did not think I would ever marry, and in my stumbling way told her I was attracted to men and not women, but that I had never acted out my desires. I told her I was totally isolated and did not know how to meet others like myself. My mother had a gay boss at the time who lived with his partner, and I actually asked my mother if she could ask him for advice as to where I could meet other gay men.

It is possibly the only time a gay man has asked his mother to put him in touch with the gay scene, but I was absolutely desperate. For nine long years, all thru my teenage since I was 13, I had kept my sexuality repressed. Now I knew there was an active gay world out there and I really was not the only one, I had to find this secret world somehow. Of course, before the ‘Standard’ articles were published I knew homosexuals existed, but I had no idea how common they were or that places where they met existed in London. I used to sometimes sit alone rather than with friends on buses to and from school in the vain hope that a homosexual would sit next to me and make advances. I was so naive it did not even enter my head to go into a public toilet, where I would have stood far more chance of making contact, nor to seek out bars and cinemas in the West End on the off chance of hitting the right one at the right time.

Some years before there had been stories in my local paper in Welwyn Garden City about ‘Queers in the Woods’, which people at work were talking and laughing about. I was so naive I rushed over to the wood in question on my bike in broad daylight, took a brisk walk thru wheeling my bicycle, and rode home again thinking the news stories were all nonsense. It never occurred to me to go after dusk without my bike and hang around, walking slowly. Also I used to dress and wear my hair in a most unattractive manner, influenced by my mother. Sexy clothes such as jeans and tee-shirts were simply not in my wardrobe. It was short-back-and sides, jacket and trousers, collar and tie for me all thru my teens and beyond.

Eventually I chanced upon an American gay  magazine on a stall near Euston station, and even that took courage to buy it after walking by several times. It contained an advert for a gay guide and I eventually got a list of places, including those in my home city of London. It was a very round-about way of breaking into the secret gay world, but in those days there was no gay press in this country and no gay guides of any sort.

So at last I had my magic key to the secret gay world which had eluded me so long, but the lock was not easy to open. To begin with the guide was not very accurate, and I wasted a lot of time trying to find places listed in King’s Cross, London, England but which were, in fact, in King’s Cross , Sydney, Australia. The bars I did find were very disappointing. Quite often only one bar was gay, often upstairs, and I inevitably went to the wrong bar. I also went at the wrong time – far too early in the evening, or even at lunchtime. I was also dressed completely wrong, and any gay person would have assumed a ‘straight’ person had walked into the bar by mistake.

In actual fact, gay bars and clubs in London are extremely difficult places to make initial contacts, or so I have found, unless you have the knack of making eye contact. I do not have this knack, people do not recognize me as gay (I have been challenged by bouncers on the doors of gay pubs accusing me of being ‘straight’) and I wouldn’t know how to chat-up or respond to a chat-up line anyway. I find it quite impossible to make eye contact. If a stranger looks me in the eye, my reflex action is to immediately look away.

I tried visiting a few gay clubs listed in the guide, but could not gain access. Even after the 1967 Act was passed, the gay clubs were very difficult to get into. You had to be introduced by a member, and if you knew nobody who was even gay, let alone a member, you were barred from entry or joining the club. Too many plainclothes police tried to gain access to these clubs in order to make easy arrests. All you had to do was offer to buy a plainclothes policeman a drink in a gay club or bar, or smile at him even, and you could be arrested for ‘importuning for an immoral purpose’.

Eventually, working my way down the Lavender World list, I tried the Biograph cinema in Victoria, which was where I was to meet George three years later. I immediately made a mistake by sitting the ‘wrong’ side of the auditorium. The lefthand side, looking towards the screen, was where most of the activity took place. I sat on the right, where the older men and heterosexuals who just wanted to see the films tended to sit.

However, after a few minutes I became aware of the leg of the man next to me coming into contact with mine. At first I thought it was accidental, but it continued and I could feel a definite pressure. It led to my very first real sexual encounter, and was not very exciting or memorable. He was a middle-aged, bald-headed Italian, and after a few minutes’ fumbling in the darkened cinema he got up and went to the gents or moved elsewhere. However, to me, although nothing had really happened apart from some groping, it was wonderful because I knew my years of enforced isolation, frustration and celibacy were over. I now knew where to go and what to do. I changed seats and soon found the lefthand side of the auditorium was much better. At the age of 22 I had finally started experimenting with sex, about 10 years after most other people, gay or straight.

Over the next few weeks I had several quick sexual encounters in that cinema, and eventually someone actually arranged a date with me to meet again. He was due to play piano at a social club opposite a council estate in Camden Town. As it happens this was the very estate I was to live with my mother and George in a few years’ time. I sat in the background as his guest whilst he did his stint, and afterwards we went to Victoria and booked into a Red Shield Hotel, run by the Salvation Army. It was a proper hotel, not a hostel for down-and-outs, but it was reasonably priced. That was the first time I went to bed or stayed overnight with a man, and so could be described as where I first really lost my virginity.

Over the next few months I acquired a Swiss boyfriend, who lived in West Kensington. I had met him in the Biograph too, and I stayed overnight at his place several times. What my mother thought of my suddenly staying out all night I do not know, but I was 22, and I knew it was time I left Welwyn Garden City and moved back to London to a place of my own.

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In early 1968, at my mother’s suggestion, I tried moving into a spare room in my father’s flat in Hampstead, but soon realized it was a mistake. My grandmother was upset and said it would hurt my mother after she brought me up, for me to leave her to go and live with my father. Of course, it was not like that at all – I just wanted to live in London, and it was mother’s idea to move into my Dad’s flat. However, she was always saying things she did not really mean and regretting it later, and so I frantically searched for a room of my own. I found a terrible place in Stoke Newington, and took it out of desperation. My father was furious when he found out I was moving, since my mother had left him suddenly 17 years before and he felt history was repeating itself. I tried to explain that my grandmother was not happy with the arrangement, and I thought it was also upsetting my mother. I would rather be completely independent, then they could not say I favored one rather than the other.

The Stoke Newington room, above a tire shop, was in fact half a room divided by a plyboard partition. You could hear every noise thru it, although I never did discover who lived a few inches away in the other half of the room. My mother visited me there several times and thought it was awful, and a fire hazard with all those rubber tires stored below. When she came she had to sit on the bed, and if she stretched out her legs they touched the dividing wall and blocked the door. There was just room for the bed, a washbasin, a little Belling cooker, a chair and chest of drawers.

I was rescued a few months later when I met Kenny, an Irishman from Armagh. Needless to say, I met him in the Biograph, for I did not go to any other gay places. He had a large room in Camden High Street, and said the room next to his would become vacant very soon. Meanwhile I could move in with him. So I did, and we spent some happy times together. He was my second real boyfriend, and my first serious affair.

David, his very attractive next door neighbor, was not gay. He was very active in the Socialist Labour League, a Trotskyist organization which later became the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, and Kenny also supported them. David and I used to have arguments because I was an out-and-out Stalinist member of the Communist Party, their sworn enemy. I liked David nevertheless. Eventually he did move out, and I took over his room, decorating it with Maoist posters I bought in the Chinese political bookshop (run by an Albanian) a few doors down the High Street.

This was really my first live-in affair. The top floor of the rooming house was almost like a self-contained flat with Kenny’s large bed-sitting room and my smaller one next to it, each with a washbasin, and a shared little Belling cooker on the landing outside. To reach our two rooms and little ‘kitchen’ there was a door at the top of the stairs. We had to go down one flight for the communal toilet and bathroom.

I have happy memories of listening to records with Kenny, particularly a Marilyn Monroe album of songs from her movies, and of eating Chinese sweet and sour pork dishes from a nearby take-away. He didn’t want me to leave him soon after we met and go on my holiday to East Germany, but I wasn’t going to turn down a free holiday and the adventure of a lifetime to a country I had been longing to visit since a brief glimpse from a train two years before.
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Our relationship seemed to work OK, though naturally I got teased about my musical tastes. In 1964 I had belatedly discovered 1950s rock’n’roll via two Granada TV shows, one featuring Little Richard and the other Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. I had recently heard his minor 1963 hit version of ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ on radio Luxemburg, and in December of 1964 I saw Jerry Lee and Gene Vincent ‘live’ for the first time at the Golders Green Hippodrome.

From then on I was hooked on rock’n’roll and Jerry Lee Lewis in particular, and joined many fan clubs, receiving various fanzines. I even started one myself called ‘The Bop Cat’. Mods and Rockers were very much in evidence, and though I never got involved with fights, they tended to put on Mod acts with old Rockers at ‘live’ shows, for instance my first ‘live’ gig was Manfred Mann supporting the headliner Bill Haley and His Comets. We booed this Mod acts mercilessly, and threw things at them. All shows in the 1960s were virtual riots between Rockers and Mods.

Most gays don’t like rock’n’roll, I soon discovered. I had put the Swiss boyfriend off by bringing round a tape of Jerry Lee Lewis ‘Live’ At the Star-club Hamburg which he said was ‘just a terrible noise’. I once took Kenny to a Jerry Lee recording of a TV show at Elstree, and wore my new blue drape Teddy-boy jacket made-to-measure by Burton’s the tailors a year earlier. He said he would never go with me again wearing that awful jacket which he felt showed him up, and he said Jerry Lee was arrogant and treated his fans with contempt.

My life with Kenny was OK at home, but we had no life outside. He preferred to go to even the local cinemas alone, or at least sit separate, in case he picked up someone, something I could never do in an ordinary cinema. He preferred to take a ‘girlfriend’ with him on trips back home to Ireland, so we very rarely went out together and never on a holiday.

Things trundled along, however, until New Year’s Eve when I happened to run into a bisexual acquaintance of mine in Trafalgar Square, and foolishly I invited him back for the night. I introduced him to Kenny, and before I knew what was happening they had hit it off together.

I was very immature and got terribly jealous, though it was entirely my fault for bringing him back in the first place and then letting him meet Kenny. We both used to see other people, but for some reason this episode really upset me and we had a terrible row. I played Jerry Lee’s Star-club Hamburg album, said to be the wildest ‘live’ recording of all time, at full volume at about 2 a.m. in the morning to vent my frustration, and Kenny knocked on my door begging me to show some consideration for the old lady who lived underneath.

My mother got to hear about the row, though not all the details, and evidently decided it was time she moved back to London to take me under her wing again. Of course it was a big mistake, and I allowed myself to be talked into it. She said she was all alone in the house in Welwyn Garden City now my brother and I had left, and if she exchanged it for a council flat in Camden I could move back in with her. I did try to explain I had a different lifestyle now, and would want to bring ‘friends’ (i.e. ‘trade’ or boyfriends) back sometimes, but she seemed ready to agree to any conditions.

So she got a flat in Camden Town and I moved in. Kenny was disappointed, but I still kept in touch with him and stayed overnight at his place occasionally. During the next year, 1969, I went in hospital to have a long postponed operation on my upper lip. I had been born with a cleft palate and hare lip, and had many operations on it as a child, but in my teens I had put off this final operation as I just could not face any more hospitalization. Now I had been on the gay scene for 2 years, my appearance began to worry me more, so I went in and had it done. I still think they could have made a better job of it and that a very simple operation would make my upper lip quite symmetrical instead of lop-sided, but I shall not bother at this late stage in my life.

At this time I had a boyfriend, Billy, who visited me at my Mum’s flat occasionally – I remember we all watched the TV pictures of the first manned moon landing together. Billy rang to check how I was in hospital, and the nurse who relayed this message to me swore she had spoken with a woman on the phone, he had such a camp voice.
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In the summer of 1970 I planned my second trip to the Soviet Union, this time in the company of two colleagues in the local Communist Party, and the YCL before that – Steve and his sister Janice. We had been on holiday together to Paris in 1969, slumming it in a cheap bug-infested hotel and eating baked beans out of cans. I managed to give them the slip one time and scored in a Paris version of the Biograph cinema. My most vivid memory is of an incident during a visit to the zoo, when Janice, who was a big girl, came soaking wet out of a primitive public toilet of the hole-in-the-floor variety, laughing and screaming at the top of her voice as English-speaking tourists looked on in horror: ‘I fell dahn the bleedin’ crap’ole!’ I found it almost unbelievable that Janice was an English schoolteacher with this kind of language.

After we had been discussing the planned Soviet trip in my mother’s flat, she suddenly decided to come with us, and my mother told me later that she was worried I might try to defect, so wanted to keep an eye on me. I had become so infatuated with Communism this must have been a real concern to her. I even insisted on putting up a Communist election poster in our window, although my mother had in the past voted Conservative like her mother, and would never dream of voting left of Labour. No doubt she was quite horrified at what the neighbors would think, but I had tasted independence and was no longer the same person as the timid one who had left home over a year before.

In the summer we all flew off to Leningrad from Heathrow by Aeroflot, the Soviet airline (my mother thought we were making up the name, she had misheard us discussing a flight by ‘Aeroflop’!) It was the Communist Party of Great Britain’s ‘Lenin Centenary’ friendship trip to the USSR, and we got VIP treatment. Caviar, champagne and delicious chocolates were served to us on the flight. During the holiday an outbreak of cholera around Volgograd meant a cruise down the Volga to that city had to be canceled, much to our disappointment. My mother felt especially let down, since the boat trip was what she was most looking forward to. Our little Stalinist group was disappointed not to be visiting the city which proudly bore our hero’s name of Stalingrad for years, and to see the gigantic Motherland statue wielding her sword above the Great Patriotic War battleground.

We were flown instead to two cities – Ulyanovsk (Lenin’s birthplace of Simbirsk now honored with his family name) on the banks of the upper Volga unaffected by the epidemic down South, and Kharkov in the Ukraine. On a coach trip out of Kharkov the driver stopped by some sunflower fields stretching to the distant horizon for a ‘comfort stop’ and one woman got left behind – in the middle of identical sunflower fields somewhere in the Ukraine. The coach went back to look for her, but it was hopeless. Fortunately she hitched a lift to the next stop on the coach trip, where we met up again.

On the last night of our holiday, in our Leningrad hotel, several of us got very drunk, not surprisingly since we were drinking neat whisky from a bottle being passed round the dance floor. My mother, who was watching, must have been horrified, especially seeing what I did when everybody joined in a traditional Russian dance.

Each person in turn had to stand in the middle of a circle of people, place a handkerchief on the ground, kneel on it with one knee and choose someone from the circle (a member of the opposite sex) to join them in the middle, and then kiss them on the lips. In my intoxicated state I insisted on grabbing the hand of an attractive, fair-haired boy and trying to pull him into the center of the ring with me. Later, after a heated argument in Russian with his girlfriend, the boy spent the night with me in my hotel room. Not much happened really, as we both passed out from too much alcohol. He left in the morning wearing a bright red sweater my mother had knitted for me, and a bottle of whisky I bought for him in the hard currency duty-free shop tucked under his arm. I had exchanged the sweater for his cheap Soviet-made shirt, which I insisted on wearing for ideological reasons even though it looked awful.

The neat whisky had a different effect on my friend Steve. He collapsed on the dance floor and had to be carried up to his room and put to bed. All the time he was singing: ‘Arise Joe Stalin from your slumbers…’, instead of the real words of ‘The Internationale’ which were, or course: ‘Arise ye starvelings from your slumbers…’. (It was more appropriate actually for, as George remarked later, Janice and Steve were both very big and by no stretch of the imagination could be described as ‘starvelings’.) As Stalin’s name was officially never mentioned in the USSR at the time, I am not sure what the Russians helping us to carry Steve to his room thought of this Stalinist version of the anthem, which I had invented and taught my comrades.

It was only a few weeks after we got home that I met George in the Biograph, and my whole life began to change. I have already described the first few months of our relationship till the end of 1970, but before moving on to subsequent years, I must include a chapter from George’s diaries on the three months or so he spent as a resident of his favorite city, Paris. This was back in the 1960s, long before he met me.

7. GEORGE IN PARIS

 George wrote out the following ‘Impressions of Paris’ from his notes of the several months he spent in the city in the early sixties. He had gone on holiday there, probably with a client, and decided to just stay on. He got himself a room near the Bastille, and lived there as a Parisian. During this time he learnt to speak French very well, though he later lost some of his confidence through not regularly using the language. He earned a living in Paris as he had in London and Glasgow, short periods of employment interspersed with times he was ‘on the game’.

Here are George’s memories from his notes, some of which he typed out just six months to the day before he fell terminally ill on the boat to Jersey in 1991. From the Prolog, it is obvious he intended these notes to one day form the basis of an autobiographical book about his relationship with his favorite city.

‘Impressions of Paris

 ‘So much has been said and written about Paris already. Nevertheless, I have always wanted to convey the emotions and experiences which envelop me each time I visit this favorite city, so I write these autobiographical notes purely on a personal level and for no other reason than a need for self-expression.

‘I would like to describe this book as a love story – the difference being that the object of the author’s affection is a city.

‘When I first came to Paris in 1964 I rented a room a stone’s throw from the Place de la Bastille. The old concierge would often invite me down to her basement room for coffee in order to practise her English.

‘Amidst huge potted plants and photographs, Madame Artaud would reminisce about her youth, when among other things, she attended the Paris Exhibition, witnessed the sensation and riot caused by the premiere of Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring” and the scandalous sexuality of Nijinsky.

‘When she felt sad, she spoke of her only son, Emite, who had worked in the French Resistance. Holding back her emotions bravely, she would show me his photographs, and the last letter she received from him postmarked Marseilles 24 January 1943 in which he wrote of hoping to embark on a ship going to the United States, using false documents. She was convinced he never went to the New World, but was killed before escaping.

‘During more cheerful conversations, she would speak about her career as a cellist in the music hall. Sometimes in the evening the tenants would hear her play a phonograph – always the same, scratched 78 rpm records – the Cafe Mozart Waltz from “The Third Man”, a plaintive song called “La Maison du Reve” and Musetta’s waltz song from “La Boheme”. If ever I hear these tunes, the image of Madame Artaud floats into my mind, just as the music floated up the staircase of the house in the Rue du la Fayette.

‘During those days, I frequented a cafe in the Rue Navarone. The proprietress had henna hair, sharp screwed-up eyes, an even sharper nose, and thin tight lips which seemed not to belong to the flabby face. Her profile looked like a portrait by an amateur artist that had gone wrong. Madame S. was between 40 and 55, it was difficult to determine. Always, she was polite to the clientele, but distant, seldom smiling. So it was with surprise I entered her establishment one early afternoon to hear her singing.

‘The drudge who cleared the tables confided that Madame had become infatuated by a certain Africain – a refugee from  the Congo’ (formerly the Belgian Congo, later Zaire and the Democratic Republic of Congo) ‘who frequented the cafe with one or two fellow exiles. It soon became common knowledge among the regular customers that an affair had developed between Madame S. and the Congolese man. One evening a hooker who worked on the Rue Pigalle flirted with the Africain, at which Madame S. flew into a rage and threw her out. We could hear the sounds of her lover soothing the proprietress behind the flimsy curtain which separated the counter from the kitchen.

‘About a month after this incident, as I ascended the steps of the Metro, the ancient vegetable-seller who dispensed local gossip with the cabbages and carrots, called me over to her stall and informed me that Madame S. had been taken to a hospital for the insane in an hysterical condition. Apparently her lover had been apprehended by the authorities and since it was discovered his passport was forged, deportation was inevitable. On discovering this, Madame S. pleaded with the police, offered a large bribe, and when this was refused, she became irrational, screaming and scratching the gendarmes and swearing obscenities.

‘The cafe closed, and two months later opened as a Tunisian restaurant. No one knew if Madame S. was still screaming or sane, not even the ancient vegetable-seller outside the Metro station.’
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That is where George’s typewritten manuscript ends, but he also left some scribbled notes which seem to describe various visits and stays in Paris. Before the Bastille room, he seems to have lived on the Left Bank and then moved to Montmartre. This could have been a previous stay, since he writes of renting a room in Paris at the age of 18, which would have been about 1961 rather than the 1964 residence described above, when George would have been in his early 20s. From George’s notes, vivid impressions are built up of the people he met in Paris, and of events which he fondly remembered for the rest of his life.

‘The first friend I found in Paris was a classical guitarist from Santiago who, for political and artistic reasons, preferred Paris to Chile. He was 25 with no passport, so he was reduced to playing background music in night clubs owned by exiles who did not insist on work permits or papers of identification.

‘I quickly discovered that Manuel loved music and me, and for a few weeks we lived together and he found work for me. In the mornings we slept, in the afternoons we explored Paris, and at night he worked. Since I had no musical talents, my work consisted of cleaning cutlery, glasses and floors, which I soon tired of. Furthermore, Manuel’s sense of frustration became apparent, as did his anger at not having his interpretation of Bach, Vivaldi, Scarlatti and De Falla treated with the respect it deserved (for he was a professional player whose lack of papers prevented him finding legitimate work.)  The patrons of the club ceaselessly chattered and frequently drowned his sonatas, which drove him to loud gipsy rhythms whose sound contained his fury and frustration throughout the fandango.

‘Needless to say his Latin American temperament was difficult to live with, especially since he also became possessive and jealous about me, accusing me (quite wrongly) of a liaison with a handsome waiter. So after three weeks of Manuel I fled from the Left Bank and took up residence in a room in Montmartre.

‘An acquaintance introduced me to someone who specialized in lewd and crude photography and I shamelessly survived by selling my body and youth to the highest bidder. In no time I became a part of the demi-monde of Paris, where an assortment of acquaintances and experiences awaited me. Like Piaf, I regretted nothing, and learned much about life, love, authority, power, politics and the police.’

‘When I was 18 I stayed for some time in a rented room a stone’s throw from Sacre Coeur. In the adjacent room lived and worked a woman in her 30s. The creaking of the stairs (not to mention her bed and the bones of some of her clients) reverberated through the walls accompanied by those subdued but sexual sound effects which left me in no doubt that my neighbour was either a prostitute, a nymphomaniac or both. The clinking of coins and rustling of Franc notes which preceded the farewells led me to conclude the former, which the concierge soon confirmed.

‘I soon struck up an acquaintance with Marie, who, on hearing me praising Paris, said: “Mon Cher, I have been heard to say that I hate Paris and I hate men. The truth is, I cannot live without either. I have tried, but I need both like an addict needs a shot.” Although we subsequently spoke several times upon a diversity of subjects, it was the only occasion she betrayed real emotion.

‘To her clientele, she bared her breasts, but to me she bared her soul, and I have never forgotten her face, although admittedly I cannot remember her full name.’

‘Whenever I enter the Church of the Sacre Coeur, a certain image resurfaces from the vaults of my memories. I was playing local guide to two rich American matrons with limited French and unlimited finances. I sat patiently in a pew whilst they wandered around the aisles, their exaggerated exclamations echoing Heavenwards as they rushed around, clicking their cameras at every window of stained glass and statue, before descending on the souvenir shop.

‘Suddenly the sounds of stiletto heels clicking on the stone floor announced the arrival of a whore who I recognised from the Rue Lepic. She wore a tight fitting skirt, and she walked exactly as she did on the streets around Rue Lepic, as if the cheeks of her buttocks (derriere) were chewing caramels. Shamelessly, she bought a candle, which she lit and offered to God as she knelt in an attitude of prayer for several minutes. Then she departed as quickly as she had arrived, passing two shocked spinsters who were obviously horrified by her bold make-up and manner as her stiletto heels clicked back on to the streets to ply her trade.

‘I wondered to whom or for what she prayed. Perhaps she gave prayers to God for a good night’s business, or for protection from the police and pimps. Nevertheless, her image always confronts me whenever I enter the Sacre Coeur, more vividly than any plaster Madonna, and I cannot help wondering whether her prayers were answered, or thinking of her sister in sin – Mary Magdalene.’

‘Notre Dame

 ‘One evening I entered this church to escape from the five o’clock onslaught of workers and traffic. My head ached with the noise and bustle, and the black butterflies of depression flapped their wings against my brain. Suddenly the sound of choral music echoed Heavenwards, accompanied by an organ, and for the first time I heard Monteverdi’s Vespers, which the singers and musicians were rehearsing.

‘My headache and depression disappeared and only the music of Monteverdi mattered. It spoke of God, or worship, of peace, of love, and for an hour the material world ceased to exist. Since I am not especially fond of church or choral music in general, the effect was all the more magical and mystical. It is the kind of music one ought to die to, if ever euthanasia becomes fashionable, for it quenches all fears and pain and offers something spiritual to one’s soul. Surely this is what the deaf Beethoven heard in Heaven.’

‘A girl of my acquaintance who was studying English Literature at the Sorbonne, introduced me to a fellow student who, during university lectures, scribbled out the scenario for a television murder-detective film which he believed would be bought by the CBS network in the USA. His English was bad, but his American was even worse. For an agreed fee, I typed and corrected the grammar and spelling of his screenplay, whilst amusing myself over the inconsistencies of the plot, which contained more red herrings than a Russian trawler could catch from the Baltic Sea.

‘However, the Francs with which our aspiring TV scriptwriter paid me allowed me to buy a radio, which provided many hours of tuning into the BBC broadcasts and orchestral concerts. It made me feel less lonely when in my room, especially when heavy rain prevented me from walking the streets. (During this period I possessed no overcoat.)

‘Some time later I left my door unlatched one morning to go for milk and croissants. On my return my radio and clock had been stolen by a pimp who had spent the night with Arlette (Rose la Grosse). He also had made off with her wrist watch and her last evening’s earnings, which was not much for Rose was lazy. We ranted and raved about thieves and villains and Rose apologised, promising to get me another radio, which she never did. Her whole life was a series of good intentions and negative happenings, with sometimes positive results. I learned to always lock my door, even when going down to collect mail or visiting the bathroom, however briefly.’

‘One night I was taken by a companion to a basement cellar, or rather cavern, where Benzedrine could be bought. The habitués of the establishment struck me as more devious, dangerous and depraved than any I was accustomed to. There is even class distinction in the demi-monde. There are criminals and criminals.

‘My companion told me that the man at the table opposite us flanked by a Negro and a young man wearing false eyelashes and a false smile, was the writer Jean Genet. The name meant nothing to me then for I had not read nor heard of his books.

‘Later, after discovering “Notre Dame des Fleurs” and “Journal de Valuer”, I wished I could have talked to Jean Genet about his books. His prose is a curious combination of poetry and pornography. The continuity is elliptical. His philosophy and cult of crime fascinating. His characters are real. Much of his writing in prison is fantasied Pen = Phallus.

‘But, like Baudelure and Villon, he plucks flowers out of the filth, enriches and ennobles the poor with a poetic quality or image.’

George was to encounter Jean Genet again towards the end of both their lives. It was March 1986, and we were visiting Paris with our English friend, Rose. Looking for somewhere to eat in the Les Halles area, we ended up in a large but rather cheap and down-at-heel establishment, and there sitting at a table a few feet away from ours was Jean Genet , talking to another man. George kept staring at him, then he whispered to me: “That’s Jean Genet”.

George told me afterwards he was watching Jean Genet studying our friend Rose, who was then in his fifties and still had dyed blond hair, was of ample proportions, very camp, loud and extrovert. It may well be that Rose would have become the basis for a character in one of Genet’s books or plays, but sadly he died a few months after we saw him in the restaurant.

Again, George was denied the opportunity to go over and talk to Genet about his writings. Had Rose not been with us he may well have done so, but he did not wish to risk Rose becoming impatient and maybe making insulting remarks in his loud voice which Genet would overhear.

Continuing with George’s notes on his time in Paris:

‘One afternoon as I lay on the grass in the Luxembourg Gardens reading Hemingway’s “Moveable Feast”, I heard an American accent ask:

‘”Hi, good to see someone reading Hemingway. Are you American?”

‘“No,” I answered him, because at that time I was afflicted with an aversion to Americans, or rather the type of American one encountered in Europe.

‘“English, huh?” he deduced from my accent’ (Wrongly, for George was of course Scots.)

‘“Mind if I join you?” he asked, stretching on the grass beside me, and in no time we were both diagnosing Hemingway in general and “A Moveable Feast” in particular.

‘He was rather amiable, handsome, intelligent. We then discussed other writers, then theatre, modern art and films. I mentioned a desire to see a certain new film, and he suggested we go together. Embarrassed, I confided that I was financially impoverished, whereupon he told me not to worry about money.

‘“I’ll be glad of someone to talk to”, he said.

‘After the film, he invited me to a meal. I thanked him for his hospitality, but said I could not accept.

‘“Come on, I’ve got more money than I know what to do with.”

‘After the meal, and due to the carafes of wine, we both exchanged autobiographical details. It transpired that he had plenty of money but no accommodation, whilst I had accommodation but little money. As the room I rented had a sofa as well as a bed, I invited him back in return for his generosity. He accepted.

‘Later I learnt that he was an adventurer who supplemented his income by burglaries. Although I found him attractive, he spoke of a wife and child in Maine, and our relationship remained intellectual and never physical.

‘He stayed with me for a week, and then went missing for two days. He returned laden with money. He explained he had committed his biggest crime yet and was going back to the States before the police caught up with him. Before leaving me he gave me 50 Francs, which I tried to refuse, but he was insistent. We bade adieu.

‘He wrote to me from the USA, confessing our relationship had made him aware of his bisexuality. I never heard from him again. He was the kind of hero one plucks from the pages of a Tennessee Williams play. I wish we could have kept in touch.’

‘When times were tough I would live on baked beans, boiled eggs, bread and milk, which I purchased (or pilfered) from the local supermarket (this was pre closed-circuit TV systems) and took back to my room. On these occasions I compared myself with Henri Murger’s life-style as described in “Scenes de la Vie de Boheme”, but no-one need go hungry in Paris because it offers so many opportunities.’

George wrote a note here about making soup from vegetables and bones either scavenged, stolen or purchased from Les Halles market. He has scribbled the comment:

‘Since I had no work-permit, I lived precariously, no visible means of support.’

George’s most treasured possession was a Picasso reproduction which still hangs on my wall. It had been in every home he had lived in since he bought it in Paris, and he told me never to get rid of it. This is the story of how he bought it:

‘I could not resist browsing through the books and prints on the libraries of the Left Bank. On the first occasion I did so, I procured for a few Francs a reproduction of one of Picasso’s paintings from his blue period. It depicted two adults – one male, one female – and a boy by the sea.

‘It has become one of my most treasured possessions, and when I returned to England I had it framed. It has hung on walls in Islington, Bayswater, Victoria, Camden Town and Battersea.

‘During my nomadic existence when circumstances necessitated a change of abode, I would pack my belongings in one suitcase and the Picasso picture frame under my arm. It has become part of me and I cannot anticipate life without it being on the wall.’

‘I have already remarked that Paris is conducive to creation, but I was also to realise it can equally evoke self-destruction in others. In particular, I befriended a sad and suicidal young man, whose parents, religious upbringing and homosexuality contributed to a sense of guilt and despair which led him into taking large quantities of drugs and alcohol. I believed his only redemption lay in love, but since he himself believed that homosexual love was doomed/non-existent he continued on his course and one night he disappeared from our usual haunts. His belongings remained in his room and the concierge knew nothing of his whereabouts.

‘Later, I wrote a poem around him. Someone suggested I was a little in love with him, but he was already in love with death when we met, and he was too sensitive to face the fear and guilt which would fuse any future held out to him.’

The poem George apparently wrote on a much later visit to Paris is reproduced here:
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‘Towards the Unknown Region

A slim, anaemic boy, who cannot face life’s pain

Whose eyes have seen Christ crucified in vain

The young man broods along the Rue du Madeleine

His thoughts transparent as cellophane.

 ***

Terrified of tomorrow, tired of today.

Once, long ago, he knew how to pray

But in his eighteenth year his faith flew away

On wings of guilt, because he was gay.

***

 Like a fugitive bird, the boy’s body takes flight,

Dark glasses imprison his sight

As he wanders alone through this city of night,

His sensitive soul stabbed by cruel neon light.

 ***

Montmartre adorned in the colours of a whore

Beckons the boy with its raucous roar

Mad music blares from each discotheque door

Unlike the silence in the Cafe d’Or.

 ***

It is here the youth comes to contemplate

Those erotic emotions which provoke love and hate:

For in his confusion he cannot relate

Or accept his condition, or laugh at his fate.

 ***

The Cafe d’Or provide pills to kill pain,

Which deaden the senses and numb the brain

So when he could face his future again

He drifted through darkness towards the Seine.

 ***

Next day, two boys who were rowing a boat

Found a pair of dark glasses on the river afloat.

(George M., May 1973, Paris).’

In one of his short notes, George sums up my own impressions of Paris. I first went there in 1969 with two friends. We had very little money and lived, like George, largely on tins of baked beans and French bread. I had always imagined Paris to be very chic, and was initially horrified by the squalor and the smells. Later, as George says of others, I learned to love Paris.

‘Like a lover, Paris either attracts or repels. You will either love or hate it at first sight, and those who are initially and promptly appalled by the poverty, decay, dirt and noise it presents, often learn later to love it despite these defects.

‘Travellers and tourists have a pre-conceived image of Paris as a metropolis where romance and beauty blossom, accompanied by accordionists, as they waltz through the boulevards towards the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame. They do not expect to see squalor and slums en route. Like all those who believe in a wonderland of illusions, they must inevitably be disappointed by reality.’

‘Those who read works like “Les Miserables”, “Senage Paris”, “Nania”, “L’Oeuvre”, “Le Chemin de la Liberte” after knowing Paris will live through the pages more poignantly.’
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Some of George’s notes are very incomplete, and we can only guess at the stories that lay behind them: ‘L’Opera. “Traviata”. “Boheme”. Found Henri Murger’s “Scenes de la Vie du Boheme”‘. ‘Sodomised in a cemetery.’ He also wrote brief impressions and observations of his favorite city:

‘The mushrooming of sex shops in Montmartre, replacing the old cafes, patisseries and epicier. Why anyone wishes to purchase inflatable dolls and vagina cushions, when the real thing (flesh) can be obtained from the girls who line the length of Rue Pigalle any night waiting to sell their wares, seems senseless to me. The sex shop deals in existential auto-eroticism and sexploitation.’

‘Paris retains one of its basic functions – an ability to shock.’

‘Its atmosphere, its ambience is unique.’

‘It is especially attractive to lovers, by which I do not refer exclusively to those whose love is sexual and physical, but also lovers of literature, art, history, poetry, music, architecture and gastronomy, and above all those who love life.’

‘Perhaps the sense of de ja vu which I have always felt in Paris contributes to my adoration of the city, and, like a lover, makes me biased about its imperfections.’

George was convinced he knew Paris in a previous life, which would explain why the French language came so naturally and easily to him. On his first visit to Paris, he said he knew what was round the next corner in the Montmartre area before he reached it, and not famous places depicted in paintings. (Such places always look different from how you imagine them when you actually see them anyway.) He always said that on his first visit to Paris he knew his way around as if it was his hometown.

‘Paris is pervaded with ghosts from its past. It evokes those personalities with whom one inevitably associates the city. Once upon a time, in these streets and houses, penniless poets, exiled writers and anonymous artists struggled for recognition. Balzac, Hugo, de Maupassant, Zola, Verlaine, Villon, Rimbaud, Lautrec, the Impressionists found inspiration to create their masterpieces.

‘Exiles from Russia, Europe, the USA and England sought sanctuary in Paris. Chopin and George Sand, Stravinsky, Diagalev and Nijinsky, Oscar Wilde created scandals here. Henry Miller, Hemingway, Henri Murger, Saitre and de Savoir, Picasso, Renoir, Bunuel, Lautrec, Proust, Collette, Gide, Piaf, Cocteau, Genet, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. One has only to visit Pere Lachaise cemetery to realise how many famous people made this their final resting place: Isadora, Wilde, Piaf, Visconti, Proust, Chopin and many more.

‘Existentialism, Impressionism, Surrealism were born here. It was the scene for all sorts of scandals – strange couples like Chopin and George Sand, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Verlaine and Rimbaud, Solse and de Banoir. Henry Miller’s prose, considered too pornographic for publication in USA/UK, was published here. Oscar Wilde escaped the wrath of UK here and died. Cocteau smoked opium, Jean Genet transferred crime into a cult. Stravinsky gave us “Rites of Spring”. Proust, Cocteau, Genet, Collette could write about homosexuality without being excommunicated or imprisoned. As Diagalev and Nijinsky found, Paris is conducive to creation.’

‘One feels that after six months in Paris one must create either a masterpiece or a scandal.’

After George and I met, we frequently visited Paris, and I too learned to love the city. George wrote about one time when he took me to visit Pere Lachaise cemetery:

‘Sunday 15th April. We took the Metro to Pere Lachaise, which must be the most famous graveyard in the world. Certainly it does not have any of the conventional characteristics associated with cemeteries – the trimmings of doom, decay, depression and neglect are absent here. It has streets and sections, like a miniature Pompeii of the dead. Family tombs and monuments stand like small houses or shops as we pass by – each one having its own characteristic as to construction, dedication and design. It was much larger and less depressing than I had anticipated.

‘At the entrance the genial gate-keepers were on hand, and obligingly offered information and a photocopy of a plan of the cemetery (gratis, but of course the plan was well worth the expected tip, as one would spend the whole day seeking out one or two of the famous who found peace here.) The whole place is so picturesque, do not be surprised to see tourists taking pictures.

‘Our original plan was to visit the grave of Edith Piaf, whose life, loves and deaths (for she died so many deaths during the course of her life) I had written into a poem. Whilst writing it I automatically assumed she would be buried in Pere Lachaise solely because it rhymed with the previous line of my poem. To my relief and amazement I later discovered that this was the truth. Hence the desire to see her last resting place.
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‘It is a beautiful grave, small and simple. (Others are skyscrapers in comparison). Buried with her are her father, Louis Gassion, and Theo, her last love. A photograph of them on the gravestone reminds us of their beautiful, brief and tragic idyll together. A border of living, growing, flowering plants surrounds the stone. There were no cut flowers withering there, except Theo, who was cut in the full bloom of his youth. I shed a silent tear, but before I could be overcome with the sadness which her legend always fills me with, the whole scene was invaded by a group of grave-hungry vampires, disguised as tourists, who jostled and shouted excitedly, as they clicked their cameras, capturing the celebrated dead who, fortunately for them had the good sense and forethought to be buried with such close proximity to each other.

‘Among those others whose last remains lie here are Chopin, Gertrude Stein, Musset and Wilde (for whom Epstein sculptured an Egyptian Sphinx-like tomb at the bequest of a lady who wished to remain anonymous, for in those days it was not yet fashionable to admire anyone who was gay.)

‘Isadora Duncan’s ashes lie in the crematorium, which stands in the centre of Pere Lachaise, but there were so many little boxes it would have taken all day to find hers. The latest acquisition must be Visconti (Director), but by then our poor feet were tired of trudging the cobblestones. One section has a distinct left-wing slant, containing the graves of…..’.

Here the page ends and the rest of George’s notes about Pere Lachaise are lost.  I recall there were some very impressive sculptured graves in this section dedicated to various French Communist Party members and other leftwing personalities.

On either this or a subsequent visit to Pere Lachaise, we were at the entrance studying our map with its streets of the dead and the posthumous ‘addresses’ of the famous departed, when a little old woman came up to us and excitedly gesticulated as she gabbled away in French. George translated for me that she wanted to show us their latest inhabitant, the French actress Simone Signoret. This unofficial guide rushed us through the streets of this necropolis, and proudly pointed out the residence of the latest famous citizen. She later led us to other famous people’s graves. I am sure we tipped her for her trouble, but she was just proud of her local cemetery and as eager as the resident of any city to point out to visitors the ‘homes’ of her famous neighbors.

I will finish this section of George’s time in Paris with a retrospective note he wrote after visiting one of the areas he once lived in Paris:

‘Sunday, April 1981. This afternoon I took the Metro to the Place de la Bastille, from here I re-traced my footsteps to the rue where I used to live. During my first visit to Paris in 1963, I fell in love with the city so much that, rather than return to London as planned, I decided to stay and so found accommodation in a tiny room at the top of a narrow staircase, which overlooked the Place de la Bastille, with its tiny bandstand. Memories and nostalgia. I then decided to write down my impressions and the reflections provoked by Paris.’

8. BRADFIELD COURT

As we went into 1971, which was to be our first full year together, my grandmother lay ill in hospital after the fall which broke her hip just after Christmas 1970. My mother spent the first four months of the year in Welwyn Garden City looking after my grandparents, and during that time George left John’s room in Pimlico and moved into Bradfield Court. He brought Joey, his budgie, and his favorite Picasso ‘blue period’ print which he always said was quite valuable, a bargain he had bought in Paris when he lived there for several months and which I still have, he told me never to get rid of it

My mother had suggested George moving in, saying it would be company for me while she was away. Like most suggestions she made, it was something she had obviously not thought out properly. So instead of being my friend or a lodger, George became my ‘brother’ as far as the neighbors were concerned, in case my mother should cause gossip and possibly lose her council tenancy by taking in her son’s boyfriend. However, for the first year or so the honeymoon period between George and my mother lasted, and they were on quite good terms.

Around my birthday in March we bought and exchanged rings. We wore them till he died. Â

There were no civil partnerships in those days, but had he lived I know we would have registered our partnership if only to put things on a legal footing so we had visiting rights if one of us ended up in hospital, etc.. So I now wear the ring he gave me on my wedding finger, and the ring I gave him on the same finger on my right hand. We were together for 21 years till he died, therefore as far as I’m concerned we were ‘married’ and had a civil partnership. For the same reason, I always list my status as ‘widowed’ on official forms, etc., never as ‘single’ as this would be a denial that our relationship ever existed.

George had lost his mother as a child, but this first year we were together he ‘adopted’ my mother and gave her a card and a little present on Mother’s Day. My mother must have really felt she had lost a son and gained another one. In fact she once said as much, saying she felt George was the son she had once aborted before marrying my father. George didn’t know quite whether to take this as a compliment or an insult, and in later years tended towards the latter theory. Being thought of as ‘the abortion’ wasn’t particularly flattering.

Sadly, in the early hours of my birthday, March 20th, my grandmother died in hospital. It is strange how dates play a significant part in my life. My best school friend, Michael, had also died in hospital on my birthday.

About a month after my grandmother’s death, my grandfather died, saying to my mother the night before: ‘I think I’ll go and find Edie’.

Soon afterwards, when all their affairs were sorted out, my mother came back to Bradfield Court and we all lived together. This was illegal because a third person was now present on the premises where two gay men were sleeping together. Such was the ridiculous definition of ‘privacy’ for gay men in the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. The fact that my mother had a separate bedroom counted for nothing, we could in theory have been raided and arrested.

In early April George left the British Film Institute. I seem to remember he had to leave because of staff changes in his department, but he soon found another job working in Moss Bros, the high-class dress hire firm in Covent Garden. He started there at the end of May.

In May George took me to Hastings for the first time to meet his old friend, Rose and his partner Neil. My mother came with us, staying elsewhere in the town.

Rose and Neil’s flat was an antique dealer’s paradise. Neil had lived in the rented maisonnette, on the upper two floors of an old Victorian house near the railway station, for many years. During that time, and even earlier, he had accumulated a treasure trove of valuable antiques and mementoes of years gone by. He little seemed to realize the value of half the things, which were just every day objects to him.

Their flat was always a muddle, but almost everything you picked up was a relic from a bygone age. It was almost like stepping back in time. There were pre-War comics in mint condition full of what would now be regarded as very non-p.c. storylines and pictures, a mint copy of the program for the Festival of Britain in 1951 and pre-War family photos lay in drawers still in their original envelopes, complete with negatives.

In the 1990s when looking for some paper to write on Neil handed me an envelope with a George VI stamp, and on another occasion a school exercise book, last entry in 1938. These things had just been lying around for decades.

Two whole rooms were crammed full of ‘junk’, much of which was valuable. A lot of the furniture was antique, and when they offered you a hot water bottle it was the old ‘stone’ type. They had two matching earthenware washbasins and jugs sitting on top of a marble-topped unit, and numerous other objects from another era which sat incongruously alongside modern appliances like the TV and fridge.

The main living room was dominated by a huge painting covering most of one wall, in a heavy frame and illuminated by a special light. It depicted hunting dogs alongside their dead game. It had been painted by Neil’s uncle who was a famous animal painter and sculptor named Daws.

The sad thing was that many of the paintings were neglected and deteriorating. A circus scene in tapestry format ran all around Rose’s bedroom, but the unframed canvas was just held to the wall with drawing pins. A hunting tapestry suffered a similar fate, and sections of both tapestries were to disappear over the years, perhaps hidden away in a box or possibly lost forever. There were quite a few other unframed canvases lying around, as well as several framed ones. There were also animal sculptures (one of a dog used as a door-stop), and a sketch of a famous coastal view from Hastings’ East Cliff looking towards the Firehills and Fairlight Glen.

Neil was very conservative in character. At the time we visited in 1971 he worked for the Ministry of Defence. He didn’t like me wearing my CND badge in his presence, saying he could lose his job if seen with someone wearing that badge! Rose then worked as a porter in an hotel. He was as camp, outrageous and extrovert as ever. They were as different as chalk and cheese, a complete contrast of personalities.

Even though my mother was with us back in 1971 on our visit to Rye Rose insisted on going into every cottage (toilet) en route round town. Their dog, Cindy, obviously knew this route well because she was running ahead on her lead and turned into each cottage without any prompting. My mother remarked that Rose must have a weak bladder.

That year we acquired two kittens. We bought Dixie on or around my birthday in March. George and I went up to Club Row Market, Shoreditch and chose him from a cage full of little tabby kittens, all climbing over each other. Dixie made the trip with us down to Hastings once as a kitten. Some time later my aunt and uncle arrived at our flat unannounced with 4 or 5 of their six grown-up children, and a tabby and white kitten.

Dixie never took to this dramatic arrival of Dinky, and from then on adopted a strategy of trying to starve the intruder out. Dixie would regularly gobble down his own meal and most of Dinky’s before the slower eater had hardly begun. We had to feed them separately until Dinky learned to hold his own. They gradually tolerated each other, and even got quite friendly, giving each other a wash, but I don’t think Dixie ever quite got over what was to him Dinky’s unwelcome arrival.

At the end of August George took me up to Scotland to meet his family, and during our stay we visited one of his childhood seaside resorts, Ayr. It was a cold and windy day, but we had a paddle and visited Robbie Burns’ cottage. We went into a photo booth and had some romantic pictures taken of us holding hands and kissing.

He also showed me his favorite Scottish city, Edinburgh, where we climbed up the big hill known as Arthur’s Seat together. He took me on his favorite walk, along the stream down by Dean village. Of course we also saw Princes’ Street, the Royal Mile and the Castle.

Most of our time was spent in Glasgow. We stayed with his sister Betty and her husband and six children. It was bedlam. They lived in Easterhouse, a huge post-War housing development on the Eastern fringes of the city. His other sister, Margaret, lived in the Western suburb of Drumchapel, another post-War housing scheme. Margaret and her husband had five children.

We went on a one-day coach trip to The Trossachs while we were in Scotland. It was very picturesque, and we came home with some lovely photos. Loch Lomond, just northwest of Glasgow, was another beauty spot George first showed me on this visit.

As well as his sisters and their large families, I met several of his aunts, including his Aunt Rose, who looked after him when his father died, and Aunt Beeny, who had lost one or two fingers in an accident years before. George showed me all the sights of Glasgow, including the beautiful Kelvingrove Park near the Art Gallery and University, and Barrowland, a big market, where there was a mussel shop George loved. You could go in and order a plate of hot mussels.

In October a play came on TV starring Patricia Hayes as ‘Edna, The Inebriate Woman’. We both loved this study of a down-and-out bag-lady, played brilliantly by the veteran comedy actress. In later years George wrote a pilot sitcom TV script based on his own experiences and people he met when sleeping rough, and the central characters were two bag ladies.

George suggested Patricia Hayes for one of the two central characters, remembering her portrayal of Edna. His script was rejected by many TV companies, but some time later Patricia Hayes and Pat Coombes starred in a TV sitcom about two bag ladies, one of whom carried a Harrods shopping bag. This had been in George’s script, which we thought was much better that the ones produced by the TV company’s script-writers. So George’s idea, the two central characters, the Harrods bag and Patricia Hayes all made it successfully to the TV screen, but George got no credit for it.

During the first two years we were together George introduced me to Jean Frederick’s ‘Drag Balls’ at the Porchester Hall, near Queensway. These were theatrical events featuring some fabulous ‘drag.’ There would be a competition for the best costume, and plenty of music and dancing.

I remember the first time I saw George in drag – I was stunned. He looked so beautiful. He had small features, and in drag with make-up and a wig, he looked like a real woman. He had gone to his friend Roy’s place in Notting Hill to drag up, and when I went there to meet him to go to the ball, I did not know what to expect. He looked very nervous as I walked into the room, but was visibly relieved when I was so astounded and pleased with his appearance. I think I fell in love with him all over again – the nearest I have experienced to falling in love with a woman. Through the disguise I could see his eyes full of the familiar tenderness and love he showed towards me – they were truly the windows to his soul. He verbally reassured me that this female incarnation was in fact still him, my George, but I did not really need this confirmation. I would have known and loved him/her in any guise.
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George kept his drag hidden away in the wardrobe in our bedroom. It was to lead to an end to the honeymoon period between George and my mother. She discovered the drag one day, and George never saw her in quite the same light again. If her snooping caused her distress she had brought it on herself.

At the time an old friend of George’s, Marlene, used to come with me to my rock’n’roll club most weeks. As she lived in Southeast London she used to stay the night at our flat sleeping on the couch, and go home the next morning. My mum got upset about this too, and kept on about what the neighbors would think. It was quite ironic, since she had made such a big point about George being my ‘brother’ rather than my boyfriend, having a girl to stay overnight should have allayed any suspicions as to the true nature of our relationship.

Logically my mother should have made sure the neighbors saw Marlene leaving early in the morning to allay suspicions George was my boyfriend, but in my mum’s eyes her unmarried son having a girlfriend stay overnight in her council fact was little better than having my boyfriend living with us. It was a row over Marlene staying overnight that eventually caused us to leave Bradfield Court and find a flat of our own.

When my mother discovered George’s drag, he led her to believe it was Marlene’s clothes which she left there to change into after going rock’n’rolling with me. However, not realizing George had told her this yarn, I put my foot in it as usual by telling my mother the truth: that they were George’s clothes which he wore when going to the theatrical drag balls.  I do not think George ever forgave me for spilling the beans, as it confirmed my mother’s worst suspicions and strained the relationship between them.

At the end of 1971 we were, however, still living with my mother at Bradfield Court. That was the first Christmas we actually spent together.

The next year George left Moss Bros and came to work with me at Post Office Overseas Telegrams, as they were then called. We rarely saw each other as he was sent on different training courses, and ended up in a different building altogether.

Because we both worked shifts, we often came in very late from work. My mother could not handle this situation. If we were not due in till 9pm, she still insisted on cooking the meal at 5 or 6 pm and keeping it hot for us. Consequently it was all dried up by the time we came to eat it, and she complained about her meal being ruined and all the hassle. She just could not get into the habit of having hers and leaving us to cook ours when we came in, or all eating late.

We tried to lend a hand with the housework, and even worked out a rota so Mum would not be left with all the work. It was never successful, for if we were doing the washing up or vacuum cleaning, Mum would interfere and criticize, and ended up taking over and doing it herself. Finally, there was the big row over Marlene staying the night regularly. My mother made it quite clear it was her flat, that she was worried about what the neighbors would think, and that she did not want to risk losing her council tenancy. I shouted up the stairs after her that if she felt like that George and I would move out to a place of our own, and eventually, that is what we did.

Another big upset was when we were all going out for the day, and my mother, for some unknown reason, decided to take George’s pet budgie, Joey, down from his hook on the ceiling and put him on the floor of the airing cupboard with the door ajar. She said she was worried about him catching a chill as it was a cold day, and she thought there was a draft from the door to the balcony near his cage.

Our cats were always looking longingly at Joey’s cage, and Dixie in particular was determined to get him. On several occasions we had found him clinging to the cage from the ceiling, having jumped up there from some piece of furniture. When we came home from the day out, poor little Joey was dead in the bottom of the cage. Although he had no claw marks on him, obviously the cat had gotten to the cage and tormented him, scaring the poor little thing to death. My mother swore she thought she had left the cats locked up in another room, but George was heartbroken and never forgave her for this. He believed she did it deliberately as she did not like budgerigars very much.

Whether there was any truth in this, or she was just a bit forgetful, it was a terrible blow to George, who had already lost his beloved cat when his former flatmate, John, shoved him out on the streets to fend for himself. George also had the terrible memory of his stepbrother cruelly squeezing the life out of George’s pet hamster. Now my mother, through her carelessness, had killed the only remaining pet belonging to George before he knew me. It was not to be the last pet of ours whose death she caused. She claimed only to have acted out of the best of intentions, to keep Joey warm and snug on a cold day, but the end result was tragic and did not improve the relationship between George and my mother.

In late February 1972, George’s sister Betty came down to London for the first time, and stayed with us for about a week. Her teenage neighbor, Catherine, came with her, and also Betty’s youngest child, James, who was then a baby in a push-chair. Catherine longed for children of her own and doted on ‘wee James’. We took them around the sights of London, and established a monotonous routine which continued for nearly 20 years. We would ask Betty what she would like to see, and the reply was always the same, an apathetic:

‘I’m nae bothered. It’s all one.’

I remember on that first occasion coming off the bus or Tube at Westminster and George pointing out the tower of Big Ben, but Betty was much too preoccupied with wee James to even cast a glance at the famous clock tower and Palace of Westminster. On this and subsequent visits over the next two decades, Betty would regularly come down to London with a succession of ‘wee weans’ (pronounced ‘wains’) as she called them (‘screaming brats’ in our parlance). When her own children grew up she brought her grandchildren (grandweans) instead.

Betty was not really interested in seeing any of the sights, or at least she gave that impression, but insisted on dragging an endless stream of brats round St Paul’s, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the rest even though most of them were too young to appreciate it. The truth be known, Betty was only interested in going round the shops for tacky little souvenirs for the folks back home, and the ‘weans’ were only interested in chips, crisps, sweets, ‘ginger’ (Glasgow slang for all soft fizzy drinks) or anything else they could cram into their greedy little mouths to rot their teeth, clog their arteries and set them on the road to heart disease.  All food was rejected unless it was fried in a pan full of grease and accompanied by equally greasy chips. A roast joint of meat with potatoes, vegetables and gravy was looked upon with horror by the ‘weans’ as some nasty foreign meal they would only eat under sufferance, picking at it for about an hour so you knew how much you were torturing them by depriving them of their usual Glasgow sausage (i.e. hamburger) and chips.

Back in those days British Rail used to run very cheap day excursions all over the country, and we went on many of these, usually with my mother. We went as far afield as Edinburgh, Llandudno, Aberystwyth, Blackpool, Torquay, York, Chester, Carlisle for the Lake District and, that Easter in 1972, to Weymouth. It was a great way to visit places in Britain.

In September of 1972 the three of us had our first holiday together, staying in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. We toured the island, and on one occasion were late for dinner because we tried to climb up some cliffs from the beach. George and my mother started panicking half way up, since they were steeper than they looked.

It was on this holiday I met up with the mother and father of Michael, the schoolfriend who had been killed crossing the road. We had called round at their North London address one day and been told they had moved to the Isle of Wight. It was easy to trace the Czech name beginning with a Z in the Isle of Wight phone book. I had not seen Michael’s parents since he died, 12 years previously, so we wrote and arranged to visit them whilst we were on holiday. We then kept in touch for several years, visiting each other, writing and phoning, till Michael’s father died and I lost touch with his mother, who was talking of marrying again. I think she probably found the memories I invoked too painful, for that was the reason they moved to the Island in the first place, to get away from people and places associated with their long lost only son.

Round about this time, late 1972, we started making a regular date of Sunday lunchtimes at ‘The Black Cap’ pub in Camden Town. A drag artist named Marc Fleming, or ‘Auntie Flo’, used to appear there, and sometimes he was joined by Mrs Shufflewick, another female impersonator who had been quite famous on the radio. Marc was not everyone’s cup of tea, but we loved him. He was in his fifties and amply built, and used to play to a packed bar every week. He had an acid tongue, but it was all part of his act. His fans came along just to be insulted.

Coachloads of foreign tourists would be brought to the pub, and Marc used to joke that the couriers charged them a fee to see ‘an old English poofter on stage.’ It was probably true.

The things Marc said on stage were often unrepeatable, which is probably why he never got a wider TV audience and became famous like Lily Savage. He could never have done his act on TV in those days. As it was he often got kicked out of pantomime for going too far, or swearing on stage in front of the kids. He not only insulted his audience, but politicians and the Royal Family, at a time when the latter were very rarely criticized or lampooned. If anyone was foolish enough to heckle Marc, they got more than they bargained for. A woman heckling him was like a red rag to a bull. Quick as a flash came the retort:

‘Shut up you fucking, bucket-mouthed, hairy-arsed lesbian. When I say “shit” jump on the shovel.’

Hardly a politically correct jibe nowadays, and even then some people felt very uncomfortable. Marc always managed to be topical, and one week Golda Meir, then prime minister of Israel, had been visiting West Germany and was featured on TV news with Chancellor Willy Brandt. Marc’s quip about her going to Germany to pay the gas bill shocked many in the audience, who may not have appreciated the deeply satirical nature of this remark. Marc was himself Jewish, and the joke probably reflected his disapproval of Israel becoming so friendly with Germany.Â

The Royal Family came in for regular mockery: ‘Princess Anne – the horse dressed up as a woman’, ‘Prince Charles – the next Queen of England’, the Queen Mother  ‘clad in black motorcycle leathers and a crash helmet with a bunch of wax cherries attached doing a ton up the High Street on her motorbike, smashing all the red traffic lights with a hammer’ as she went, ‘a terror for a woman of 76′ were typical Marc Fleming caricatures. Everything ‘Spitting Image’ later did, Marc had pioneered years before.

We took Rose’s partner Neil to see Marc one week, and he was not at all amused at the lampooning of the Queen and her family, which was just beyond pale as far as he was concerned.

His partner, Rose, loved Marc, despite being sent up. Rose is a very big man, of similar proportions to the late Marc Fleming himself, and on one particular occasion was wearing a scarlet jumper, check trousers and his usual spectacles. We deliberately took him up the side alley, through the Gents’ toilet so we would emerge near the front of the stage. We pushed him forward, and of course as soon as Marc Fleming spotted our friend he stopped dead in his tracks, pointed to Rose and said ‘I see Billy Bunter’s arrived.’         Â

Typical quips of Marc included: ‘That’s a nice dress, love. Did you get tired of the curtains?’ ‘Do they still do hairstyles like that in Peckham? It doesn’t suit you, dear – you should have it combed forward over your face.’ ‘There’s two men with beards down there. I like beards, but they bring my arse out in a rash. Why don’t you get together, do a 69 and get lockjaw?’ ‘That frock suits you. I do so admire a woman who can wear black. Been dead long?’ ‘Is that your wife next to you or just the weekend joint?’ The punchline for anyone who looked hurt or embarrassed was: ‘I’m only joking dear, same as God was with your mother’.

The Almighty regularly came under mild attack: ‘Isn’t she camp, that God, sitting up there on a cloud all day….’ There was a dog on the premises owned by the manager or one of the staff, and it too became a butt of Marc’s jokes: ‘It’s all wrong you know, that big butch dog sitting out in the alley tethered up with a string of pearls.’

You either loved Marc, or you hated him. His double act with Mrs Shufflewick was also popular, though Shuff liked her drink and often forgot her lines. Marc would then say: ‘That’s another gag you’ve fucked up for me.’ But he was really very protective of Shuff, and off-stage was a very nice person. He had a boyfriend, Joe, who was very quiet and shy, but who was sometimes persuaded to sing a few numbers. He specialized in Al Jolson songs (without the black make-up), and he had a wonderful voice very like Al’s. They were not dissimilar in looks also (Joe, like Al, was white).

Marc and Joe were often invited back to lunch or dinner by members of the audience, who knew they would be sent up the following week. ‘I went back with that queen in the corner last week,’ Marc would say, pointing out some squirming figure trying to hide behind someone else. ‘“Come for Sunday lunch”, she said to me last week. Sunday lunch? A tin of fucking Spam, dear.’

We loved our Sundays at ‘the Cap’. We sometimes saw my gay cousin in there as he was also a great fan, and once his two straight sisters were with him enjoying the show. Then one day we read in the gay press that Marc had died, I believe of cancer. It was a terrible shock and a very sad day for us, and all Marc’s fans.

Earlier in 1972 there had been a big UK tour by my favorite singer, Jerry Lee Lewis. I followed the tour around the country as far afield as Coventry and Liverpool, and dragged George and my mother along to the early show at the London Palladium, then left them to go home whilst I went into the second house. George was not overly impressed, but did say he thought it appropriate that Jerry ended his act that night with ‘Old Rugged Cross’, as it was a Sunday and Jerry calls himself a Christian.
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The year 1972 ended with a trip up to Scotland with George for my first Hogmanay on New Year’s Eve. Nothing much happened up there until midnight, and I was wondering when the party would start. However, once the bells rang in the New Year it was a non-stop party for several days, with neighbors coming in and out all the time.

Catherine, the young neighbor who had come down to London earlier in the year with Betty, had a grandmother who kept getting up and coming in to join the party every time they put her to bed. Eventually I passed out from drinking Scotch, which I was not used to. Next morning I was awoken by two neighbors (male) trying to pull me out of bed to take me down the pub to start all over again. George saw them off and would not let them drag me down there, knowing what Glasgow pubs are like, especially at New Year. But the party started all over again that day, continued all night, and only fizzled out on about the third of January.

After Hogmanay in the Winter of 1972/1973 we headed back to London by coach. The weekend after Valentine’s Day was the ‘Aquarius Love Ball’ at Porchester Hall. We had bought six tickets for ourselves and friends, and George, Lena and Fifi went in drag as usual. All three of them posed for a photo outside a West End sex cinema on the way to or from the drag ball. They looked like three prostitutes with the film poster behind them reading: ‘Good Little Girls’ and ‘Sex Explosion’. A print of this photo is now in George’s collage.

Later that week we went to the National Film Theater to see Mae West in ‘Belle of the Nineties’. This was a film star George introduced me to whom I learned to love as much as he did. I think we saw all her films together (except her last, ‘Sextette’, which was not released in the UK during George’s lifetime), and we had some of her records, which we both loved. She had done cover versions of rock’n’roll standards like ‘Great Balls of Fire’, ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ and ‘Happy Birthday Sweet 16′ which were quite brilliant and hilarious, full of double entendres, as were some of her much older recordings, such as ‘Sister Honky Tonk’.

Around my birthday in March, having completed his training as an Overseas Telegraph Operator, George started work at the International Telex Office in Fleet Building. This was very frustrating for him, since it was really nothing whatever to do with Overseas Telegrams, and all his training was wasted. No keyboard skills were required; he was expected to sit in front of a console pushing a button every now and again, a job which a robot could easily do.

It was, of course, a taste of the future when telex took over from telegrams, then fax from telex, and e-mail from fax. Telecommunications was a field which changed faster than most due to new technology. George hated the International Telex Office, and eventually left.

In April 1973 George and I took the first of many trips abroad together, a long weekend in George’s favorite city, Paris. We also included a visit to Versailles. I had not liked Paris on my first trip in 1969, but I saw it through different eyes with George. They say Paris is for lovers, and I certainly saw the romantic side of it as George proudly showed me the city where he used to live, including his favorite Montmartre area. We were to return many times to Paris together, and had booked for Christmas 1991, which of course was not to be as he died in the September that year.

9. TWO CRISES

Right at the end of 1972 we had what could be described as the first real crisis in our relationship, and it involved sex. Never being really sexually compatible we had been reduced to mutual masturbation. Everything else was for one reason or another just not physically possible it seemed, including anal and oral.  Remember George’s stepbrother was also unable to achieve penetration, and George lost his erection if anybody tried to give him oral. With his small mouth giving oral was not easy either, and he was never the active partner in anal sex as far as I am aware. We did a lot of cuddling though for all the 21 years we were together.

In the first few months we were together we were monogamous and faithful to each other. George had stopped taking amphetamines, which gave him most of his sex drive. However, he used to tell me about sexual experiences he had before he met me. This was a big mistake as I just could not handle it, and became incredibly envious of George. Our adolescent years had been so totally different. While I had been totally frustrated sexually, George had lived out and experienced almost every sexual fantasy any gay man could even imagine before he was 20 and I felt I had just missed out on so much.

I think it was inevitable that our relationship would have to become an open one to survive  given the very limited nature of our sexual activities together, my frustrated teenage years and George’s sexual preferences, which became apparent later.

We had certain rules – never to flaunt our sexual partners in front of each other, we only saw other people at certain times, usually weekends, and we tried to coincide. Most importantly, we never allowed ourselves to get emotionally involved with anyone else. If it started to get to that point, we stopped seeing that person. So we always remained emotionally faithful to each other right to the very end. Â

The crisis started when I found and read a piece of paper in George’s wallet describing in intimate detail his sado-masochistic sexual fantasies. I had led a very sheltered life, and knew nothing about sado-masochism or slave/master relationships, yet this is what George was really into.

My prying into his private things left George just as shocked and horrified as I was by my discovery. My mother snooped and discovered his drag in the wardrobe, and now I had read some private notes in his wallet, but it could easily have been my mother, not me, who found and read about his secret fantasies.  Such things, if written down at all, are best done under a pseudonym and not left lying around.

I realized when I read George’s notes, that he must have assumed when he met me that I would play a much more masterful, dominant role than I ever felt able to. When we met I was dressed all in denim, which looks very butch. However, being basically a pacifist, I could never convincingly play the role of a master, and certainly not towards someone I loved so tenderly.

In George’s gay circle of camp gay men or ‘bitches’ they were always passive and looking for dominant, active men. I was versatile and assumed all gay men were likewise, I knew nothing of these ‘bitch’ and ‘butch’ roles, let alone ‘slaves’ and ‘masters’.

George got a bit impatient with my ignorance and naivety, but reading his S&M fantasies I then realized that he liked to play a very submissive role to an ultra butch man, the classic slave/master relationship of the S&M scene.

Finding it difficult to talk about such things even now, I wrote George a letter. It then became clear from his response that we both felt our relationship fulfilled our emotional needs, but that the sex left a lot lacking. He agreed that we were not very compatible sexually, and that this would most likely lead to frustration and sexual destruction. He was right, for sex could easily have destroyed our emotional relationship.

George said he was into fantasy rather than physical pain, and in truth I was similar, though at that stage had never acted out such fantasies. Apart from some mild, unconvincing ‘spanking’ which I indulged in to help him achieve orgasm on occasions (no doubt reliving the first experience with his stepbrother), we never explored S&M sex together. Indeed George  felt that only strangers were able to stimulate in this manner, and if I tried to play a more ‘butch’ masterful role I would just be going thru the motions, it would not be convincing.

It seems, from speaking to other S&M enthusiasts, that these ‘slave/master’ roles cannot be sustained within a loving, emotional relationship, which is probably why escorts (male and female) do such a good business fulfilling such fantasies.

I can honestly say we did the right thing in having an open relationship. Our emotional relationship survived for 21 years. Had we tried to restrict ourselves sexually to the deeply unsatisfying physical possibilities within our relationship, I believe we would have split up long ago. The strain would just have been too great, however much we loved each other. Indeed, this love could have easily turned to resentment that the other person was ‘cramping our style’ and the resulting frustration would have caused an explosion sooner or later. As it was the physical side of our relationship subsided (except for cuddling nightly), but the emotional one got stronger. Our love transcended and rose above the physical, and became spiritual, the union of two souls.

If two people are compatible sexually and emotionally, then a monogamous relationship is possible. If, however, they are sexually incompatible, yet one or both have high sex drives, the only way the emotional relationship can possibly survive is if they have some sort of open relationship whereby other people supply the physical needs. In other words, if you really love someone you want them to be happy and will not deny them something essential to their well-being.

With George and myself, the emotional relationship, a kiss and a cuddle, was all-important. But we both realized we each had sexual needs the other could not properly satisfy. Our spiritual love for each other lives on beyond the grave, and will continue for eternity. Sexual love is far more fleeting, often dying with youth.Â

The second crisis in our relationship  occurred exactly three years later, December seemed to be a dangerous month. This crisis was about our separate interests; George in particular felt we had little in common. The resolution involved putting things down in writing, perhaps because we were both writers we found this easier.

George had said something about feeling more lonely living with me than when he was on his own. What had kicked off this crisis was when George had accused me of just going to our annual visit to a Dorothy Squires concert to patronize him. Actually I did like her older songs, but never did like the typical ‘diva’ style songs she and Shirley Bassey, etc. sung. Anyway some sort of row ensued about the concert, which escalated to George saying we had nothing in common any more.

It did seem by then we weren’t going out as much as we used to, and there was a weekend in Amsterdam when I let George go on his own because we’d been there some months before. This was the first time since we met we had not gone on holiday together.

Also, after weaning me away from the Communist Party, I’d drifted back and was now more heavily involved than ever, attending committee meetings as treasurer of my local branch in Battersea where we then lived. This must have meant George was left on his own many evenings.

In 1972 I’d left the Party and even started getting into religion, but completely the wrong kind. I started attending a little Assembly of God church, and was thinking of being baptized as a born-again Christian, mainly because I liked the music. My favorite singer, Jerry Lee Lewis and his family, belonged to that church, his cousin Jimmy Swaggart being a Pentecostal TV evangelist. The sect rejected me for being gay, and so by 1975 I had turned to atheism again and re-joined the Communist Party.

This must have also depressed him and made him feel we had little in common. I was planning a second trip to East Germany in 1976, which in the event proved to be a turning-point. It must have seemed to George at the end of 1975 that we were both locked into our own little worlds, with very little we could share.  What made it worse was when George was depressed he didn’t want to talk about these things, and so we drifted further apart.

It is partly the eternal irony of all relationships, it is the differences which attract us – they say opposites attract. So a typical husband enjoys his football, while the wife often cannot stand it. I didn’t like many things most gay men are supposed to like, but surely this is what attracted George to me in the first place. My love of 1950s rock’n’roll and the butch Teddy-boy/rocker image for example. Did he really want a queen who would enjoy Shirley Bassey concerts and admire her dress sense? Or perhaps he’d have been content with a Teddy boy who didn’t think the sun still shone out of the dead, disgraced arse of Joseph Stalin.

Classical music was another thing we couldn’t share, but I tried to point out some things we did have in common – films and artists we both liked, Mae West being one, and recent films like ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’.  Also the drag acts, like Mark Fleming, though I admitted I was tiring of the Porchester Hall Drag Balls now the novelty had worn off. However I loved the parties we had together, dancing to all sorts of records, and we both loved the old music-hall type songs.

Another area of tension was around our home, which George felt was deteriorating. We decided together to make a real effort to make it something we could both be proud of, buying little ornaments and things. I was never much good at DIY, but I did promise to fix the kitchen cabinet which was apparently broken.

We did build up some lovely homes, three of them in our 21 years together, though it was always George who took the initiative in buying things for the home. However, I did get quite good at ‘fixing’ little things, though neither of us were much good at DIY. Self-assembly furniture such as a wardrobe, video cabinet and shelves never were quite right – the doors didn’t shut properly and slide-out shelves refused to budge.

Although George would actually really choose the ornaments (since I had no taste, as he often told me), after this crisis we tried to go together and make sure we both liked what he suggested. My present home is one of the greatest legacies he left me, and I am still proud of it. Other people have remarked on what great taste George had. This is the reason I never want to move, or drastically alter anything in the flat. Â

Writing was another thing we had in common, although we used different styles, and I suggested we should be sympathetic and help each other and perhaps even embark on joint projects. We did later co-write a series of scripts for a TV sit-com. Sadly, it was never accepted. Neither was one George wrote on his own, though his basic idea was stolen and used with an inferior script. (About two bag ladies, even his main prop, a Harrods carrier bag, and his suggested main actress was filched!)

When this crisis blew up I was running a 1950’s Rock’n’Roll and a Country music disco as a hobby, but I could not get the right dates and so it was not going very well. I suggested we do a gay disco together, as a joint venture. We did in fact do several discos together, though again it was hard to get the right bookings. We did a disco for a Porchester Hall Drag ball in February 1977. George was annoyed when a cameraman from ‘Titbits’ photographed myself dancing with Freda, and Rose with Lena, whilst poor George was stuck on stage playing records, so never got included in the magazine. The rest of us had our color photos across the center pages, which George years later cut out and included in his collage.

After this crisis we did start going out together more often I believe, and I promised to try and accompany him more often when we went to see his friends, as I had few of my own. George had accused me of not talking to people who visited us. I admitted I found some of them boring, though I enjoyed the company of others.

Being unemployed in the last year or so of his life, inevitably George visited friends on his own while I was at work, but I think I did make an effort to go with him when possible, and I also kept in touch with them after he died.

We realized how much we loved and needed each other, and that we had to work on the relationship. I had a budding interest in the paranormal, Spiritualism and the basic questions of life and death. This had been awoken in me by a book ‘Psychic Discoveries Behind The Iron Curtain’ and similar articles in magazines. Atheist Soviet scientists had actually photographed the ‘soul’ or ‘astral body’ of living things, and it seemed to be able to survive damage to the physical body. The Soviets termed this astral body ‘bioplasma’.

I was constantly searching for the truth, and for a way to build a better world. Politics and the peace movement were one way, but a new Spiritual path was opening up to me as well as I gradually realized a purely materialist/humanist path was likely to lead to serious mistakes. Basically I had still to learn the lesson that people can be urged to treat each other better, but they cannot be forced, and that any political system can be distorted and used for selfish ends. No system is perfect. Uncle Joe Stalin’s brutal methods simply didn’t work in the long run, because absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Indeed I admitted during this crisis that idealists with good intentions had sometimes done more harm than good, and that I was not sure whether we should give up trying to change man’s nature. I said I was learning all the time, but that organized religion did not hold the answers for me. I prophetically wrote that maybe I would find the answers some day.Â

I believe I did eventually find the right path, with George’s help, through Spiritualism and the idea of karma and reincarnation, with every soul making continuous progress by learning from life experiences over the centuries. Our politics also eventually coincided, both becoming pacifists and Socialists.

Things did greatly improve after this crisis, especially after I finally left the Communist Party for good the following year. But it was another crisis point which could have ended our relationship, and which proves you have to really work to make a relationship work, and not take it and your partner for granted, or get too involved in your own interests to the neglect of your partner.

10. INGELOW ROAD

The days of all three of us living together in Bradfield Court, Camden Town were coming to a close. George and I were soon to move into our first real home of our own together. In April 1973 we moved out of my mother’s council flat in Camden, to a ground floor flat in a Victorian terrace in Battersea. It was the only place we could find, and it belonged to an acquaintance of George’s friend, Roy. Eric the Jamaican landlord had no interest in letting the flat out but let us stay there as a favor to Roy.

Eric lived in a couple of rooms on the first floor, and the attic he let to a mysterious Irish character known as ‘The Gunslinger’ who did not live there, but called occasionally. George was very suspicious of this character, and thought there may well be IRA connexions. Eric and Roy were both leftwing politically.

I have fond attachments to our first home together, although it was hardly a palace. The electric wiring was so bad that when we moved out Eric could not let the flat again – a law had since been passed requiring a certificate that the wiring was up to standard before a flat could be let. We actually had a fire whilst we were there, caused by the faulty wiring.

Rose from Hastings was up for the weekend, and we were sitting in the front room with the light on when there were some sparks and the paper shade caught fire. Whilst Rose and I panicked and shouted hysterically inane things like ‘Get a bucket of water’ (to throw over a live electric light?), George remained cool and calmly but quickly stood on a chair and snipped away the string suspending the shade, and as it fell to the floor we quickly stamped out the fire. There remained a black patch on the ceiling which we did our best to scrub clean, but had it not been for George’s cool head it might well have been far worse. The ceiling could have caught fire, or Rose and I could have been electrocuted trying to throw water over a live electric light fitting.

We had no bathroom in our flat, or inside toilet. The loo in the yard had no light, so Roy fixed one up for us with a wire leading through the kitchen window to a power point. He did it so badly you got an electric shock every time you turned the loo light on. We had a rubber mat on the floor to absorb some of the shock when you performed this dangerous operation.

We bought a portable shower unit with a plastic container which you filled with hot water and pumped by hand. This stood in the narrow passage outside the kitchen. If we wanted a proper bath we had to go to my mother’s place in Camden.

Our two cats came with us to Battersea, and loved being able to go out into the yard at the back. We fixed up a cat-flap for them. Dixie, the greedy one, sometimes came in the kitchen window with little snacks he had nicked from someone’s breakfast table. One day he came in with a nice freshly cooked rasher of bacon. When we eventually moved, we could not find Dixie, and then I spotted him in a garden backing on to ours. I went round to the street behind and knocked on the door. It transpired they had been feeding Dixie for years, thinking he was a hungry stray. So he had been getting about 4-6 meals a day, taking into account that he ate most of Dinky’s meals as well.

One day Rose was visiting, and she loves her food to put it mildly. I had a Chinese take-away, which George did not like, but Rose had one with me. Then George got some fish and chips, so Rose had to get a portion too. Still hungry, he got chicken and chips, put it down on our coffee table to go and get some tomato ketchup, and Dixie seized his opportunity and grabbed the chicken leg off Rose’s plate. When she saw what was happening, Rose screamed and chased the cat all the way up the passage to the kitchen, grabbed the chicken leg from Dixie’s mouth, rinsed it under the tap and ate it. This was one of Dixie’s unlucky days, meeting someone greedier than he was.

 Another time he went missing for several days, and we had tearfully given him up for lost, or run over. Then he suddenly turned up in a dreadful state. He literally looked like the proverbial drowned rat, being soaking wet and covered in black mud and filth. We gave him a good warm bath and shampoo, and he survived to live to a ripe old age of 15. We never found out where he had been, but could only guess he had been trapped in a drain or somewhere similar for several days, then somehow managed to escape.

The woman next door, who we nicknamed Battersea Beattie, was always hanging out of her upstairs window watching what was going on. As we were going to the Porchester Hall drag balls quite regularly, and often dragging up at home, she must have seen some strange sights to gossip about. As we came in our front door she often waylaid us from her window to tell us she was off to try and win the ‘Battersea Banger’ (a jackpot prize at the local Bingo hall), or some piece of scandal. One day she informed us ‘old Atto’, the landlord, wanted to put her rent up.

She had lived there for years and was paying a very low rent for her upstairs flat, about £2 a week I believe. The only way the landlord could put the rent up, apparently, was if he made improvements to the flat, but Beattie was having none of it. Although Eric upstairs in our house had a bathroom, apparently Beattie did not, and Mr Atto wanted to install one for her, and then put her rent up.

‘‘E wants to put a barf in so ‘e can put me rent up, but I ain’t ‘aving none of it’, she informed us through the window. ‘I’m paying two quid a week for this flat and I ain’t paying no more’.

The implication of Beattie’s remark was that she had not had the luxury of a bath all her life, and did not intend to start now if it meant her rent going up.

Our flat was furnished by Eric, but we also gathered our own bits and pieces. My mother gave us some crockery, linen and curtains. Roy was a semi-professional at scrounging in skips and dustbins for items which he could sell. In the early hours around Notting Hill and Bayswater he could often be found with his head buried deep in a dustbin searching among the rubbish for anything useful. Once or twice he was nearly caught by the police in this position. He did find some amazing things, particularly on skips in the more well-to-do parts of West London. He gave us a lot of little things, and we used to joke that our flat was furnished out of skips.

Of course, we had to make do as best we could. Married couples setting up home just draw up a list of everything they need and it is provided by relations and wedding guests. Gay couples, before civil partnerships became possible, had  to fend for themselves as best they could, and setting up home for the first time is not easy, even in a furnished flat. There are hundreds of little items you take for granted which you have to acquire all at once.

After we moved out, my mother lived in various flats, eventually moved back to Welwyn Garden City and back to London in 2001 to be near me. Now in her 90s I call in daily to look after her and take her out.

On a British Rail Merrymaker excursion to Aberystwyth in May a lovely little steam train ride was included from the town up to Devil’s Bridge in the mountains where there was a marvelous view each side of the road overlooking a stream and a waterfall in a canyon. However, we had to pay twice to see this view as pay-to-enter turnstiles had been erected each side of the waterfall. The Welsh certainly know how to make money from tourists; in later years we visited the much more impressive Niagara Falls, but did not have to pay to see the view.

George  had started work as a telex operator at an Australian company. He stayed there ten years, and got me a job there eventually. After I left he went back there again, till made redundant when the firm went into virtual liquidation.

In July we went on our first long holiday abroad together, with George’s friend Roy, to Austria. We flew into Munich airport where a coach met us to take us to, as we thought, Salzburg. However, as the coach reached the German-Austrian border and stopped at passport control, I pointed out to George and Roy our hotel a few yards away up a hill. There was no mistaking the name of the Hotel Votterl which we had been allocated, and sure enough we were staying outside Salzburg in a picturesque little village split in two by the border. The Austrian side was Grossgmain, and the German side Bayerischgmain (Great Gmain and Bavarian Gmain). Every time you left the hotel you had to take your passports to show at the border post a few yards outside the door. Germans from Bayerischgmain regularly came across the border to watch TV in the hotel lounge, though I could never quite work out why.

We arrived in the evening, and were starving, having only had an airline meal. We were a bit disappointed to be served cold meat and salad, but would have made the best of it had it not been for Roy. He was furious because we were not staying in the city of Salzburg as the brochure had led us to believe, and this meal was the last straw. He kicked up a hell of a fuss, and to our delight, but also acute embarrassment, whilst everyone else in our group made do with cold meat and salad we three tucked into prime steak and vegetables at no extra cost. So it sometimes pays to make a fuss.

Actually we enjoyed staying in Grossgmain. The view from our hotel bedroom window of the mountains was out of this world, the village itself was very pleasant with its chalets and colorful window-boxes, and there were lovely walks to be taken in the clean air of these mountains. We did see Salzburg as the coach took us in several times, including a sightseeing tour.

Whilst in the Salzburg area we had some trips into Germany, including one to Berchtesgaden where Hitler had his retreat. George was a bit annoyed because Roy seemed to have something of an obsession about Hitler and Eva Braun, and was so excited to be there. In actual fact there was nothing much left to see of the old buildings, except what is known as the Eagle’s nest high on a peak in the distance. However the countryside around is beautiful. I remember sitting at an open air cafe overlooking a valley. Whilst in the Berchtesgaden area we visited the salt mines, and had our photo taken on a little train which runs through them. We also visited the beautiful Lake Koenigsee in Bavaria.

Back in the  immediate Salzburg area we had a trip by cable car to the top of the Untersberg, high above the clouds. The locals laugh when they see the sequence in ‘The Sound of Music’ where Julie Andrews runs down supposedly from the top of the mountain into Salzburg, because it is so steep, craggy and high you might just as well try to run down Everest. Our courier told us about a group of Americans he had taken on a ‘Sound of Music’ tour. He was telling them something about Mozart who had lived in the area, when one tourist complained:

‘We don’t want to hear about this Mozart guy. This is the “ Sound of Music” tour, and he wasn’t in the movie.’

After Grossgmain/Salzburg they dumped us in a boring small town called Ybbs on the Danube in the flat central area of Austria. All it seemed to have of interest was a mental hospital. To relieve the boredom the three of us used to skip through the town arm-in-arm singing a line I’d made up in my very limited German: ‘Wir kommen von das krankenhaus’ (we come from the hospital) and generally acting like loonies just to see the reaction of the locals, who never batted an eyelid. Evidently they were used to seeing escaped mental patients singing as they skipped through the town.

Ybbs was a dull, gray sort of place, with absolutely nothing to see or do. There was a folk festival one day, and there was the Danube, which was not blue and not particularly romantic as it flowed through the town. Of course the tour company’s idea was to strand us in a place so boring you would pay to go on the ‘optional’ tours to get away from it. We refused to do this, so just kicked our heels around town till it was time to move on to Vienna.

We were staying on the outskirts of the Austrian capital, and Roy began to get on George’s nerves with his perpetual moaning. We were walking around the city center one day and got a bit lost, and Roy moaned:

‘Oh no, we’re not back here again!’

George curtly told him to stop grumbling. After all, half the fun of exploring a new city is getting lost and finding your way around. One of Roy’s favorite sayings was ‘Your mother’s not stupid’, the maternal figure being a reference to himself. Actually ‘mother’ was extremely stupid on this holiday, going into a supermarket and paying about a pound (sterling) for a banana, which he then moaned about for days.
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In Vienna we saw all the sights, including the Prater where we had a ride on the enormous Big Wheel made famous in the film ‘The Third Man’ with Orson Welles. We also went in a beer hall in the Prater, where they had waltzing waters and German-type beer songs. We had several such evenings throughout the tour which we enjoyed. One, in a village just outside Vienna, was a bit too touristy, with everyone being encouraged to link arms and act as if they were all drunk as soon as we arrived, but for the most part we remembered affectionately the Austrian and German songs we learnt, including one where everybody in turn had to get up and stand on their chair. Roy was about the only one who refused to join in the fun, and remained glued to his seat.

Before we left we had a farewell party, and our male courier, whom we nicknamed ‘Tinkerbell’ because he was always ringing a little bell to attract our attention, and his boyfriend (they were very obviously gay) waved us off, as did the hotel guests staying on. It was a very memorable holiday, though probably would have been even better without Roy, even if it meant going without our steak the first night.

At the end of September I paid my first visit to a prison, when we visited Lena in Pentonville (for some gay offense I believe). George planned a party for him when he came out. He was released on Friday October 5th, and we had the party next day.

This would have been the first of our parties, which we could now hold since we lived in a flat of our own. After going to the Porchester Hall drag balls we often had a party, and invited a few people back.

Our parties grew quite popular, though they were also quite a lot of hassle. George had to keep sober in order to make sure everything was under control. I am afraid in the early days I was not any help, as I used to mix my drinks and pass out. One drag queen of ample proportions we met at Porchester Hall once drove like a maniac all the way to our flat, so we called her ‘Gas-pedal Annie’. She took a shine to a young guy in a suit who had also been at the drag ball, but who was a bit naive. Making no headway with him, Gas-pedal Annie got him into our backyard and shoved a popper up his nose. Poppers are canisters of amyl nitrate, popular with gays. You sniff them and they give you a brief buzz, and they are something of an aphrodisiac. Of course the young man felt ill, and an argument ensued, which ended in Gas-pedal Annie throwing a drink over someone. George had to take the situation in hand as I was too far gone.

We met a much nicer character at the drag balls, Freddy or ‘Freda’ (also known sometimes as ‘Fifi of the Folles Bergere’). He was probably in his late 60s or early 70s when we first met him, but he made all his own drag, which was very theatrical and was covered in sequins, with headdresses of huge colored ostrich plumes and rhinestones. He appeared once in a charity show in Stockwell, on the same bill as Marc Fleming. Backstage, Marc was admiring Freda’s drag.

‘Who sewed all those sequins on your dress, love?’ asked Marc.

‘I sewed them all on myself,’ replied Freda proudly.

‘You must be fucking mental’, came back the Fleminesque retort.

Freda won nearly all the drag competitions at Porchester Hall. He used to come to our parties regularly and do a little cabaret. He also did the occasional cabaret for the old age pensioners’ club on the Waterloo council estate where he lived. He used to tell us how amazed they were that ‘The Fabulous Freda’ was none other than the scruffy little man in the flat cap who used to walk his dog around the estate.

Freddy had been in the Merchant Navy, and used to do some cabaret for the boys on board ship. He had also been in the theater, mainly as a dresser I believe. He had picked up and remembered odd lines from various plays he had either acted in or been associated with. He used to suddenly recite one or two of them, completely out of context and therefore they made little sense. Phrases like: ‘Your mother, she’s not in here’, ‘Have a piece of sponge cake’ and ‘She was a soldier’s wife, my dear, and the second thing he asked for was his breakfast.’ He also used old sayings remembered from his childhood, the meaning of which had been lost in the mists of time, such as ‘silly girl lemon’, ‘cheese or jam?’ and two of my favorites, which I like to pair together, ‘oily kippers – slap it on the wall’.

Freda remembered the people and events of 40 or 50 years ago as if it were yesterday, and was always asking us if we knew bitches like Bottle-Nosed Mary, Doodlebug Daisy, Carrier Bag Carrie (also known for some reason as Cannibal Kate), The Painted Lady, Chrissie Crow, Miss Minge (‘she used to say “I’m a Princess”‘), Kangaroo Kate and Pissy Morris (‘she used to pay old tramps to piss over her under Admiralty Arch, dear – init camp?’ Freda would say.)

‘Oh you must know Blow-Job Annie,’ Freda would insist, ‘She’s always around the West End, dear.’ Then she would think for a moment, and admit: ‘Of course, not now, I’m talking about them days,’ which probably meant in the 1920s or 1930s. Then Freda would continue with her saucy little anecdote of gay life in London back in those between-the-Wars years ‘Well, dear, she plated a black man on the top deck of a number 9 bus.’ What with camp queens being pissed over under Admiralty Arch and giving blow-jobs upstairs on London buses, the capital seems to have been quite an eye-opening place in those far off days.

‘Some bitches today don’t believe you when you talk about them days,’ complained Freda, ‘but it’s all true, my dear.’

Freddy/Freda also used to tell us stories of the places and things he had seen whilst in the Merchant Navy, though he sometimes got the places a little muddled. ‘I saw the Carnival in Trinidad, dear, with Table-Top mountain in the background’. To Freddy, everything was ‘camp’, even the most tragic circumstances. One story he told about some Third World country he visited in the Merchant Navy concerned a woman begging, holding a baby wrapped up in some rags (or more likely just a bundle of rags): ‘She said to me “Could you give me some money to bury my dead baby?” Init camp?’ Freda would say.

As well as winning the competitions in the drag balls and doing cabaret for OAP’s, Freda used to do occasional cabaret in gay pubs. We once saw him perform his dance and mime act in ‘The Cricketers’ in Battersea, just below the flats where we then lived. He had little cards printed reading: ‘The Fabulous Freda, lovely to look at, delightful to know. Taps and Tempo.’ He got some cards printed for my disco, which I was trying to get going at the time.

We got to know Freddy, and his lovely dog Sandy, quite well. Apart from our parties, he visited our flat quite a bit, and we once went on a day out to Margate together. We visited his flats in Waterloo – while we knew him he moved out of one flat into another on the same pre-war council estate just opposite the Old Vic. His flat was cluttered with drag and theatrical paraphernalia. You could hardly get into the bathroom for all the drag, including dresses with layers and layers of starched net, hanging over lines stretched above the bath.

Right to the day he died he used to tell us raunchy stories of what had happened to him either years ago, or on his way to see us in a ‘cottage’ (toilet) en route. He once told us he had ‘trade’ (sex) with a construction worker at the top of the Millbank Tower when they were still building it. If ever we were with Freddy and he happened to see someone he had once had trade with, even if it had only been a one-off like the Millbank episode, Freddy would point him out to us and say: ‘That’s one of my husbands, dear’.

I will always remember Freda with affection. Strapping on his false plastic boobs and putting on his enormous headdress which made Carmen Miranda’s look quite tame by comparison. His cabarets at our parties were something we always looked forward to.

I once wrote a poem about Freda and the stories he told us. I repeat it below, as it gives a flavor of his character. George took Freddy to the theater once, and he said Freddy talked almost non-stop, to the annoyance of the audience around them. Imagine what must have gone through their heads as they heard Freda in full flow along these lines:

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THEM DAYS

I’ve been all over the world, my dear

I saw the Carnival in Trinidad

I remember it all so very clear

What a bona camp time we had.

***

 Our ship had just arrived in Capetown

We stood there, me and Chrissie Crow

And watched the procession march up and down

‘Course, that was them days you know.

 ***

Then Cannibal Kate, Blow-Job Annie and your muvver

A-cottaging in Melbourne did go

We didn’t get none of the other

But there were kangaroos all over the show.

 ***

So I goes up to this bona Aussie sharpie

And says: ‘Your muvver, she’s not in ‘ere,

‘Ave a piece of sponge cake, my lovely’

And ‘e said: ‘Go home you pommy queer.’

 ***

Did I tell you what happened the other day

In a cottage on Blackheath, my dear?

On two bona homies carts your muvver was plating away

That was when the fair was there last year

 ***

So I says to Bottle-Nosed Mary

Why did you go with that old tramp

She said: ‘Well when you’re a middle-aged fairy

Take whatever comes your way’, init camp?

 ***

Do you know a bitch called Miss Minge, dear?

Do you know The Painted Lady and Doodlebug Daise?

You must know them – they hustle all round here,

Not now, I’m talkin’ ‘bout them days.

 ***

Anyway, to the Embankment we trolled, dears

Hoping some nice rich steamers to meet

When Pug-Nosed Pat hollered: ‘You bleeding queers

Can piss off out of my beat’

 ***

So Miss Minge hit Pat wiv ‘er ‘andbag,

Doodlebug Daisy used her high-heeled shoe,

The Painted Lady said: ‘I’m a lady and can’t spoil my drag’

But your muvver lent a hand too.

 ***

Then a sharpie came to ol’ Pat’s rescue

I tell you, lovely, she looked a right old mess

So he says to us: ‘I’m going to arrest you’

Miss Minge yelled: ‘But I’m a Princess’.

 ***

They were bundled into the sharpie car waiting

But your muvver weren’t born yesterday you know

I said: ‘Nip up this alley ‘n’ I’ll give you a plating’

Blow-job done, the sharpie let me go.

 ***

Now when you’re talking about them days

Some bitches, they don’t believe you

But your muvver has done all that she says

It’s true, my dear, it’s true.

 ***

Was I ever in Majorca?

No dear – oh yes, I was for just one night

Or am I thinking of Jamaica

Or maybe the Isle of Wight?

 ***

Anyway, this woman on some island, lovely

Showed me a dead kid wrapped in a shawl

She wanted money to bury her baby,

Init camp, dear? Freda’s seen it all.

 ***

I saw Carrier-Bag Carrie the other day

Trying to sell a carrier bag

I said to her: ‘You bitches today

Just don’t know the meaning of drag’.

  ***

Now this dress that I won a prize in

Is real drag, don’t you see

It was given to me by Vera Lynn

Back in 1943.

 ***

The first five bob your muvver made

Was on an open-top bus doing a plating

And in the shelters for your muvver in an air-raid

Soldier and sailor boys’ carts were a-waiting.

 ***

Under Admiralty Arch, Pissy Morris for years

Was paying old tramps doing skippers

To stand there and piss all over her, dears,

Yes it’s true, init camp? Oily kippers.

 ***

She’s lovely to look at, delightful to know

And really heavenly to see,

Fabulous Freda: they still love her so,

But best were the days as an H.P. at sea.

 ***

I knew Kangeroo Kate in the last War,

She was a soldier’s wife, my dear

His breakfast was the second thing he asked for

And your muvver, she’s not in here.

 ***

Cheese or Jam?

 

Glossary of Gay Polari and slang words used in poem:

Bona = lovely, good-looking, Cottaging = looking for sex in toilets, Sharpie = policeman, Homies =men, Carts =the male organ, Plating = oral sex, Trolled = walked, Steamers = clients, Doing skippers = sleeping rough, H.P. (Homy Polone) = effeminate homosexual or bitch.

George at first thought this poem was disrespectful of Freddy Williams and could be taken as making fun of him. But it wasn’t written in this spirit – it was meant to capture as many of his sayings and stories as I could to preserve them in our memories and for posterity.

Our parties were never the same after Freda died, and eventually they petered out. As we got older we found ourselves getting less tolerant of people who wanted to stay all night, even those who lived in London and could get night buses or taxis home. It got so people were sleeping on the couch, in our spare beds, in armchairs, and staying most of the next day too, but leaving us to clear up all the mess.

Another character who came to at least one of our parties was a youngish, camp-looking Indian we called ‘Marcia the Mouse’. At this particular party I had passed out on the bed, the bedroom being screened from the living room by a curtain.
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Marlene, an old friend of George’s, had brought her young boyfriend, Rory, to the party. Also at the party was a prostitute George knew called Maria. Suddenly Rory and Maria had climbed into the bed beside me. I was pretty far gone as Rory and Maria started performing, but since Rory was in the middle it was stimulating me somewhat, and Rory gave me a hand job. Marcia was getting so excited peeping round the door and reporting back to the kitchen what was going on. Later Rory had the cheek to ask George for a fiver ‘for doing Tony a favor.’ George gave both him, myself and Maria short shrift for our behavior at the party, though I never asked them to climb in bed with me. I don’t suppose Marlene, Rory’s girlfriend, was too pleased either.  I should not have drunk so much that I had to retire to bed and leave everything to George, but one or two drinks I and was gone, either asleep or dancing on tables.

Marcia, who lived in Guildford, sometimes made trips up to London to cruise Hampstead Heath at night. This is where we first met him. He used to take a flask of tea and sandwiches, and hide them away in a bush. We never had trade with Marcia, he was not our type, but we sometimes gave him a lift in my van afterwards, and as we talked about what had been happening on the Heath that night, Marcia would get very excited, and wanted to know every little detail. He kept interrupting with questions like:

‘Yes, Yes, but tell me darling, where was all this happening? Was it Grotto number 6 or Grotto number 7?’

Marcia had all the main bushes on the West Heath numbered in his head, starting with Grotto Number 1 on the slope behind Jack Straw’s Castle. Men tended to gather in these big bushes for sex. They are now all gone, cut down in a vain effort to stop gays having sex in one of the few traditional places in London left for them. The West Heath has been changed beyond recognition by this official vandalism which has stripped it bare of much of its shrubbery and small trees.

‘When I first came to England, my dears,’ Marcia would tell us, ‘I had no idea of all the fun that was going on in the loos.’

We visited him once in his neat little house in Guildford, and he had baked us a cake. He showed us Guildford Cathedral, but as we sat in the pews Marcia’s sex-obsessed conversation seemed inappropriate, and so George suggested we all leave.

In actual fact, our parties were far from orgies, and one of our gay friends stopped coming to them because nothing sexual ever happened. The episode of three in a bed above was an exception. Lena (in drag) sometimes hit it off with a man he had met at the drag ball, but that is about all. At one party he was sitting on a man’s lap, and admitted to us long afterwards he had a hole in his skirt and knickers and the man had been discreetly fucking him. This too was an exception.

Our parties were a mixture of straight and gay people, men and women. Some of the men were in drag and some were not. The music, prepared by George on tapes, consisted of a good mixture of dance music and slower numbers, from both his and my record collections, including some 1950s rock’n’roll. Two rock’n’rollers, Angel and Charlie, who lived in Battersea used to come along quite regularly. Roy used to provide the lighting effects with a projector-like contraption which made colored shapes seem to float about the walls and ceiling. We had some memorable parties in Ingelow Road, and our later flat at Jay Court.

In December 1973 George came with me to my firm’s Christmas party, which included a slap-up meal with Beef Wellington. I had by this time also left Overseas Telegrams and was working as a telex operator in a private firm in the City. We got this one Christmas party out of them, then I left because I could not stand the people I was working with. They had all been in the army and could talk about nothing else. I got fed up with daily quips like ‘Colonel’s lady approaching’ when the boss’s wife walked by, or ‘other ranks’ bar now open’ when the boss went out to lunch and they sneaked into his office to steal some nips of his whisky.

In March 1974 we flew from Luton airport to Rome for a few days’ holiday. From Rome a coach drove us down to Sorrento, where we spent the night. It was already late when we arrived so we saw little of it. Our hotel had orange trees laden with fruit by the swimming pool, and a view across the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius, the volcano which destroyed Pompeii.
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Very early next morning we had to be up to catch the boat to Capri. It was my 29th birthday, and it was spent on this wonderful little island where Gracie Fields once lived. Jackie, our tour guide, described it as her ‘island of dreams’. We enjoyed the coach tour round the island, and exploring the little alleyways, where we got our first taste of real Italian ice cream, made from fresh fruit. We later found a place in Rome, on one of the big squares, where they also made this delicious kind of ice cream, and also milkshakes where generous helpings of strawberries, bananas, etc. were blended into the milk while you waited. It was a great birthday treat to discover real banana ice cream on Capri, though George did make his own banana ice cream at home from evaporated milk and fresh bananas which was also delicious, though not so creamy as the Italian variety.

The next day we sailed back to the mainland where our coach took us to Pompeii, the Roman city engulfed by the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius and wonderfully preserved to the present day. We had seen plenty of ruins before. (George once joked to a courier: ‘I don’t want to see any more old ruins; I’ve lived with one for years’.) Nothing, however, could prepare us for Pompeii, which actually felt like a real city. Not only were the streets and pavements perfectly preserved, also many of the shop frontages, but there were some buildings complete with their roofs, decorated inside with paintings (one in particular deemed unfit for ladies to see). It was like stepping back in time, and quite incredible that they were still standing in such a good condition. The guides pointed out the deep chariot ruts worn into one street and said they were deeper here because it was the red light district of the Roman city, and therefore busier than most streets.

After an all too short stop in Pompeii it was off to Rome for our last two nights. We visited all the sights, including the Trevi fountain. I cannot remember if we threw a coin in and made a wish, but certainly we were to return to Rome many times. Around the ruins of the Roman Forum we discovered many stray cats, which we petted and took photos of. Then all too soon, after just one full day in the Eternal City, it was back to Luton airport and home. We had packed a lot into our short 5 day trip.

On Easter Saturday, which fell in April that year, we went to see the Lindsay Kemp Company in their production of Jean Genet’s ‘Flowers’ at the Regent Theater. It was my introduction to Jean Genet’s work, and also our introduction to The Great Orlando, the blind actor who we later got to know as Jack. He turned out to be a friend of Sheila, a woman I had worked with at CND years before.

Jack lived in Battersea, and one day we picked him and his guide dog up in a taxi and took them over to Sheila’s flat in Hampstead, where we were all going on a picnic on Hampstead Heath. The cab driver was very nervous when we asked him to turn into Jack’s cul-de-sac near the River, where he shared a place with Lindsay Kemp. It looked as if no-one lived at the end of such an uninviting backwater, with warehouses each side, and the cab driver was obviously suspicious.

Our idea of a picnic was a few sandwiches, some fruit and a flask of tea, but we soon discovered Sheila and her friends had far more ambitious ideas. A friend who used to be in the student section of CND when I knew her, but was now a full-grown woman, ran around like a little kid saying: ‘I want to fly a kite, I feel like flying my kite on Hampstead Heath’. George and I, who had been lumbered with carrying the picnic basket up to the top of Parliament Hill, watched in horror as heavy crockery, cutlery, glasses, bottles of wine and containers of different kinds of salads, plus various cheeses and loaves of bread were crammed into it. We struggled over to the Heath and up the Hill, and later had to struggle down again with all the dirty eating and drinking utensils, instead of just throwing the empty paper bags away which is the joy of most picnics.

In May we went up to Edinburgh on a British Rail Merrymaker trip, which we thought would be a treat for my mother. However, unknown to us it coincided with Cup Final day, and we were made to feel guilty as my mother moaned about missing the match on TV, and kept asking people what the score was.

With intentions of doing a rock’n’roll disco, I had learnt to drive and bought an old van from our landlord, Eric. At the end of May we drove my Mum down to visit her friend Cath in the beautiful village of Porlock, in Somerset. We stayed the weekend, and on the Sunday visited the Doone Valley. We returned on George’s birthday, which was a Bank Holiday.

In early August we were off again, to the Isle of Wight for yet another one-day excursion. This was the occasion where we met up again with the parents of Michael, the school friend who had died on my 15th birthday from injuries received in a car accident. They seemed pleased to see us, and on this or another occasion gave me a color photo of Michael taken shortly before he died, and also a beautiful sculptured lamp.

Later that month we went to see Tennessee Williams’  ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ at the Piccadilly Theater, George was introducing me to all his favorite writers, playwrights and other artists, for which I will always be grateful, as they have enriched my life so much.

In late August we went to Margate.  I stayed a week with my mother at Jean’s, the landlady where we spent all our childhood holidays. Of course she had moved now to the more select Cliftonville area. George could not get time off work but stayed  over the weekend and really liked Jean. He’d introduced me to places he knew as a kid or adolescent in Scotland, now I had taken him to my childhood favorite place.
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In the middle of October we were off on our travels again for five days in Paris with Roy, who had accompanied us to Austria, and another friend called Ray. We did all the usual tourist sights, including the top of the Eiffel Tower.

In late November was the annual C.H.E. (Campaign for Homosexual Equality) fair and disco (later superseded by the Winter Pride event). I suddenly came over ill at the disco. I had been drinking some beer, which must have triggered it off. I just felt a terrible nausea, and we had to come home. I went to my GP a day or so later, who diagnosed a stomach upset and told me to stay off work a couple of days.

By the Wednesday, however, George noticed my eyes were yellowish, and told me to go back to the doctor as I had jaundice. The doctor still thought it was a stomach upset, so I drew her attention to my eyes. She then examined me closely for the very first time, and admitted they did look ‘a bit yellow’, so sent me to hospital for a blood test. I had this done, and had been home a few hours when the phone rang. It was my GP to tell me she had received the results of the blood test, and I had hepatitis (which causes jaundice) and had to be isolated in hospital at once. An ambulance was on its way.

George was at work, so I had to ring and tell him, then rush around trying to find clean pajamas, etc.. Of course by this time I had been infectious for weeks, and was now actually feeling a bit better.

I was admitted to a hospital near Clapham South Tube station, and that first night I was so lonely and unhappy I seriously thought about climbing out of the ground floor window and going home to George. However, I stayed in my full term. There was no treatment, though I was supposed to stick to a non-fat diet and of course avoid alcohol for a long period after I left hospital. Everyone in the ward had either hepatitis A or B, yet somehow the hospital still managed to forget and serve me up a fried breakfast, which I refused to eat on medical grounds. I have since been told people with diabetes are regularly offered sugary desserts by incompetent hospital staff. One patient accepted these, got worse, had to have her legs amputated, and subsequently died. Another patient (our friend Rose) had the sense to refuse the dessert, but hospitals really should make sure patients are not offered food forbidden by their medical conditions.
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The hospital I was in took regular blood tests, and George had to go for one but was OK. I could not understand why so many people visited me in hospital, including people I used to work with ages before. Only years later did I learn George had organized all this, to make sure I had visitors every day.

Of course George was the most regular visitor, and whilst in hospital I finished writing a novel. George suggested I dedicate it, not to a person, but to: ‘Hepatitis, without which this book would never have been completed.’ I did include this dedication as it was perfectly true. The book was never published, and was really just a variation on the old ‘Dracula’ theme, though I thought at the time it had some original twists. I came out of hospital fully recovered, but was warned it would have to be a ‘dry Christmas’ (i.e. no alcohol) if I was not to suffer a relapse.

 

That Christmas George spent in Hastings with Rose and Neil, and I spent with my mother. George did not get his Christmas dinner till the day after Boxing Day. Whilst we filled ourselves with turkey and other goodies, when George phoned Christmas Day we heard he had just had some slices of pork luncheon meat as Rose was too busy watching TV, and Neil was not prepared to do the dinner all by himself. When George rang Boxing Day he had still only had some slices of corned beef or something similar, but no turkey or Christmas pudding.

My brother was spending Christmas with me and my mother, and he came with me in the van to Hastings the day after Boxing Day to visit Rose and Neil and bring George back. Although Rose is outrageously camp, Philip got on all right with everybody. He was especially pleased that we arrived just in time for Christmas lunch, delayed two days.

Neil always insists on serving big meals, which is why Rose put on weight as soon as he moved to Hastings. We had huge portions of turkey and piles of vegetables, followed by enormous slabs of Neil’s home-made Christmas pudding and about half a carton of cream each to pour over it. Philip was in his element.

I will never forget the nightmare drive home. We had probably all had a drink, but Philip offered to drive the van back to London. It was the worst thing we could have agreed too. He was determined to show off and drove like a maniac all the way, with me and George too terrified to say anything in case he drove even faster. The roads between Hastings and London were narrow, winding country lanes, and Philip was tearing along them on the wrong side of the road. It only needed a car to come in the opposite direction round a bend for us to have a head-on collision, but somehow we got home safely.

It was my second and last experience of being driven by my brother Philip. The previous occasion was on the Yorkshire Moors with Philip and his fellow pot-holers. I was sitting in the back of a truck on some boxes as we bumped along over the moors with huge pot-holes dropping hundreds of feet each side. I only found out what the boxes contained when we went over a huge bump and Philip turned round and said to me:

‘Are you OK sitting on that jelly?’ He was referring to the gelignite with which they later had to blast some of the rock away to get one of the pot-holers out of a narrow crack he had crawled into.

On New Year’s Eve we had one of our big parties and we moved into 1975, which was to be another year of travelling.

At the end of February we flew off to Majorca, with my mother and George’s friend Andre, who was not French but Irish. He hustled regularly in drag, and this other guise was known as ‘Angela’. On at least one occasion he came to our party in full drag. However, he left his wigs and frocks at home when he went on holiday with us.

We stayed in Magalluf, then a very new resort with building works everywhere. Being so early in the year, it was not beach weather, but we had a pleasant holiday and traveled all over the island.

We used to travel into Palma de Mallorca by bus, and on one occasion Andre, George and myself went into Woolworth’s in Palma and saw my mother stuffing herself with a big cream cake. We were very surprised as we had asked if she wanted to come with us into town, and she had said she was too tired and wanted to rest. We crept up behind her and said:

‘Greedy pig’.

She ignored us at first, then looked round guiltily realizing the words really were directed at her. She explained she kept thinking about these cakes and just had to jump on the bus and come and get one.

On the one occasion we did lie on the beach, George had just closed his eyes when a gipsy woman came up to him rattling beads in his face. When he continued to ignore her she shook him till he opened his eyes, and George gave her a mouthful of abuse. It is a bit much if you cannot doze on a beach without someone waking you up to sell you a load of old tat.

There was a bar we went to where George, Andre and I danced with some elderly French ladies. George and Andre later laughed happily as they exchanged comments on the rigid steel-like corsets you became aware they were wearing when you danced with them.

We took the train ride to the north of the island, where we transferred to a tram. Here we were embarrassed as my mother went up to an old tramp outside the cathedral and offered him a cigarette. Typical of my mother, although this kind of action got her into some awkward situations. On a holiday to Russian in 1970, just before I met George, Mum had started talking in English to a man next to her on a tram, and the man, who only spoke Russian and evidently thought he was being chatted up, grabbed hold of her knee. My mother could not understand why he had done this when she was just explaining to him how nice it was to visit Russia and have a nostalgic ride on a tram. One week after arriving in Majorca we were back home again.Â
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In April we went to a party at Andre’s basement flat near Hammersmith. Someone gave George a ‘Black Bomber’ pill, and I was horrified, and pleaded with George not to take it. Little did I know then he had been taking amphetamines for years, but he never tried the really hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin. However, I would not recommend anyone to start on ‘uppers’ as it is very easy to become dependent on them, as George did.  They caused depression when their effect wore off, and amphetamines messed up George’s life, also making our relationship very difficult at times.

In late May we went for a long weekend in Amsterdam. It was our first visit to this city, and we went on a special gay trip by coach. Most of the coach party had been before, and knew all the clubs. Many were older than us, and as we arrived early Saturday morning, having traveled all night, many rushed off to the day sauna. We checked into our hotel and had a rest before exploring this delightful little city.

On that first occasion we were not all that impressed with the gay scene there. Perhaps we did not know the right places to go. Certainly the DOK and similar big discos we visited were little different from the ones in London. We discovered Vondel Park, a sort of open-air cruising ground after dark, similar to London’s Hampstead Heath. It is a very long, narrow park, and after walking for what seemed miles we spotted a policeman in uniform. On Hampstead Heath this would have caused gays to run for their lives, but in Amsterdam the police see that you are gay and direct you to the cruising area where gays gather to have sex. It was all so very civilized compared to nanny-state Britain, which was still 50 years behind the times.

On later trips we discovered the excellent Amsterdam gay backroom clubs and bars, which avoid the need to frequent public parks and toilets. Moreover, the Amsterdam venues tend to be very inexpensive. Most have free entry, and drinks are normal prices. Where there is an entry fee (for the gay cinemas and saunas for instance) these are reasonable, and you are given a ticket allowing you to come and go as you please for the rest of the evening.

One poor bitch in the Amsterdam coach party seemed to spend most of the weekend in one of those iron urinals by a canal near our hotel, offering cigarettes to attractive men who came in. This may be the way she was forced to get trade in Britain, but everywhere else you go to a gay backroom club or a gay brothel, which is less of a nuisance for everyone concerned.

During the coach trip we got chatting to several camp queens, and it seemed one of them worked for a London borough council as a carpenter. He was by no means young and so was perhaps old enough to know better, but he claimed to be personally responsible for drilling ‘glory holes’ in several cottages in the borough. Of course, this would be regarded by the authorities as vandalization, but it was the direct result of Britain’s ridiculous laws at the time which made proper backrooms illegal until the 21st Century. We traveled back from Amsterdam on the late May Bank holiday.

That August, George’s eldest nephew, also named George, came down to stay with us. It was his first visit to London. Almost as soon as he arrived he went round to the nearest pub, but came back a few minutes later disappointed. They could not understand a word he said. In broad Glaswegian he had gone in and demanded:

‘Gi’s a pinta heavy and 20 Regal’.

Apart from the accent, the barman was not to know that ‘heavy’ in Glasgow is a kind of draft beer, and ‘Regal’ was a kind of cigarette not then available south of the border.

He had similar problems when we took him up Speakers’ Corner on the Sunday afternoon. He was particularly fascinated by an Irish woman named Mary and her friend from Leeds, who used to praise the Irish Republican cause and spout a lot of anti-Jewish propaganda. They were so over the top, it was amusing to watch and listen to them, but young George got all upset and started trying to argue with them.
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Mary, who had always loudly and proudly proclaimed that she considered herself not British but Irish, complained she could not understand a word he said, and called him a ‘bloody foreigner’. We pointed out she was a foreigner too, whereupon she insisted she was British. Of course, young George was British too, but it was pointless pursuing the argument with such irrational people who changed their nationality to suit the circumstances. Her favorite phrase was: ‘If you’re Jewish they put you in the House of Lords, if you’re Irish they put you in Long Kesh’. (The latter was later more commonly known as The Maze.)Â

She once accused me of being a foreigner too, saying: ‘Will you look at you with the foreign nose sticking out of the face of you’. On another occasion she claimed the Queen had looked out of the window of Buckingham Palace and saw Vera Lynn walking by, said to herself: ‘What a lovely schnozzle, I must knight it’ and that’s how she became Dame Vera Lynn according to Irish Mary.

In September we celebrated our fifth anniversary by going to see ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’. This remained one of our favorite camp musicals, and we loved all the songs from it. We saw both movie and stage versions several times, as well as having the soundtrack album.

A few days later we embarked on a trip to Italy which was virtually a ‘Tour of Europe’. Starting off in Belgium, we went through West Germany and Switzerland to Italy, going also through Luxemburg on the return journey (unfortunately we were both asleep when we passed through the Grand Duchy so missed it on this occasion).
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On arrival at Ostend there was a delay, and it seemed our courier had not arrived. At the last minute Maria had to stand in, and she was not at all happy about it. Soon after we started she told us it was better we gave our money to her for meals en route, to save changing it into so many different currencies. At our first stop, a self-service restaurant, Maria ordered the cheapest dish on the menu for everybody, and when anyone tried to select a little extra such as a cake Maria came and snatched it away from them saying they were not allowed it, even if they paid for it separately. If there was no money in it for Maria, we could not have it. It was obvious she had told the staff to give us the cheapest food on the menu.

A little Welsh widow was traveling on her own. The endless coach journey was a bit too much for her, as she often nodded off to sleep and so missed much of Italy. Her husband had recently died and left her a bit of money. She had planned a world cruise, but in the meantime took this Italian trip.

When Maria came to her on the coach to collect money for the optional excursions, this poor woman handed her Spanish pesetas. Instead of helping her, Maria went berserk:

‘Why you bring pesetas on this holiday? We go to Italy, not Spain. Give me lira or sterling please.’

The poor woman was confused, as Maria snatched her precious sterling and moved on down the coach. We tried to explain to the woman, but she could not understand why this foreign money was not acceptable in foreign parts. Apparently the last time she went abroad it was with her husband, and he had arranged the currency. They had obviously gone to Spain or one of the Spanish islands, because for the current trip she had gone to the bank and simply asked for some of ‘that foreign money we had last time’, presumably showing the bank the receipt for the pesetas.

Stuck all through the holiday with Spanish pesetas nobody wanted, the poor woman was even seen outside the hotel in Venice, her open handbag stuffed with useless peseta notes, begging a postcard seller to take as much as he liked, she just wanted to be rid of this foreign money. Instead, everyone, including the postcard seller, grabbed her sterling. Fortunately, she seemed to have enough of this to see her through the holiday.  (What a pity the Euro didn’t exist in those days!)

Although we enjoyed the trip, it was something of a disaster from start to finish. The sun roof blew off crossing a mountain pass near Innsbruck on the way to Italy, and our courier abandoned the trip and ran off with the money half way through.

Maria already had a bad reputation with the hotels en route, as some of them would not allow her on their premises. Our hotel in the Rome area was located in a village outside the city, which was disappointing as we expected to be in Rome itself. To make matters worse, Maria treated us like a herd of cattle. Instead of allocating rooms properly, she tried to split friends, husbands and wives by holding up keys and shouting:

‘I want three mens or three womens to share this room’.

George told her to allocate the rooms properly, and eventually she did, though obviously it was really too much trouble for her that late in the day, for we had arrived sometime near midnight.

Next morning we had to insist she gave us a lift into Rome on the tour bus. Maria was extremely reluctant to do this because we had not booked on any of the ‘optional’ excursions. At first she refused point blank, but when we insisted we were booked to see Rome and we had every right to travel in on the tour bus she eventually relented. However there was still a problem over lunch. We had booked full board, but the lunch was to be taken at a restaurant. Maria tried to suggest if we did not come on the ‘optional’ tours we would have to miss lunch, but we made her agree to pick us up for lunch where she dropped us off. We were there well before the appointed time, but Maria tried to make the coach drive right past us till the other passengers made her stop and pick us up.

We were never very popular with couriers because we preferred to make our own way around cities rather than go on expensive optional tours. On one Rome visit the courier had been furious when George interrupted her as she was just about to persuade two elderly ladies behind us on the coach to go on the expensive evening Rome sightseeing tour the day we arrived. They were dithering because of the high cost, so George turned round and said:

‘Excuse me, you can get into the center of Rome by bus for about the equivalent of four pence. You don’t need to pay pounds for the coach to take you in.’

They were very grateful and decided not to go on the evening tour, but of course the courier was furious, telling George to mind his own business. On one occasion we got a bus from outside our hotel, paid the equivalent of a few pence in lira and arrived at the Coliseum before the tour party. They were amazed when they arrived and found us already there, and dismayed when they learned it had cost us pence instead of pounds.

It soon became apparent to everyone what a trickster Maria was because she disappeared in Italy with all the money she had collected for optional tours, etc.. We had to come all the way back to England without a courier. The passengers elected someone from their midst to do the essential courier duties, and we all wrote a joint letter of protest to the tour company. Eventually we got a refund.

Despite all the mishaps, or maybe because of them, it was a holiday to remember. We visited Ostend and Brussels, in Belgium, Aachen in Germany, Lugano and Lucerne in Switzerland, and Vipitino (Sterzing), Signa, Padua, Venice, Florence, Rome and Lido di Ostia in Italy, also making additional scenic stops, and we got a glimpse of Innsbruck nestled in a valley.

George was already planning another trip to Amsterdam, but I decided not to go this time as we had been so recently and I had been rather disappointed with the gay scene there (not having really discovered it). So the next month I went up to Whitehall with George, and saw him and Andre on the coach to Amsterdam for the weekend. It was another trip organized by gays for gays, and it seems they had a camp time. Andre fancied a black guy in the coach, and George ended up locked out of their hotel bedroom half the night whilst Andre ‘entertained’ him. Still, George came back on the Monday and had apparently enjoyed himself. It was the first of a few separate holidays we took in the 21 years we were together.

A month later, at the end of November, we saw Dorothy Squires together at the London Palladium. This was the visit which kicked off our second relationship crisis, since George felt I only went on sufferance. Refusing to accompany him on the second Amsterdam trip was also a factor.

We went down to Hastings just before Christmas, which we spent with my mother. Boxing Day we had a little party with some gay friends round, and we ended up the year again at the New Year’s Eve Drag Ball.

 11. LAST YEARS AT INGELOW ROAD

Early in May 1976 we flew from Luton with Ray and another friend, Andre, to Rome for a week’s holiday. Having been twice before we were able to show them all the sights, and also visited some new to us including the catacombs, the E.U.R. development designed in the Mussolini period, and the Tivoli gardens just outside Rome, with all their fountains. We also made a return trip to Lido di Ostia, the seaside resort a short train ride from the capital.

There was one unpleasant incident during the holiday. We all agreed to visit a local gay cruising area in a central Rome park one evening. We split up once there, but unseen by them I overheard Ray and Andre talking about us, and it was not very flattering. I cannot remember the details, but Ray was saying cruising was not his scene and running us down, and Andre was agreeing with him, turning nasty, and accusing me of being George’s trained monkey, spying for him and reporting back. It did add a sour note to the holiday.

Arriving back in Luton, Ray’s snobbish boyfriend met us in his car. Our flight was a little late, and so he started to lecture Ray about going on ‘cheap charter flights’ and package holidays. This was obviously for our benefit, but although he and Ray had flown quite a few places together on scheduled flights, working for an airline he got either free or heavily discounted tickets. It was an unpleasant end to what would have been a pleasant holiday, had it not been for Ray’s snobbishness and Andre trying to keep in with him.

Eventually we lost touch with Ray altogether, when I foolishly disobeyed George’s instructions by putting on a gay blue movie when showing off our Super-8 films and projector. I should have heeded George’s warning of course, though I think we both agreed later Ray’s friendship was no great loss.

Andre and George remained on speaking terms till the day he died, and George even helped Andre by getting him off the game and into a proper job, where George worked. I think they were always wary of each other though, and each knew better than to cross the other one.

 Looming up in July was a holiday I had planned in East Germany. It was, of course, my idea, and originally George had not planned to come with me. I went ahead and booked for myself, and was due to sail from Harwich to Hamburg, then go to Berlin by train. George later changed his mind and said he would come with me, but wanted to fly direct, so I altered the booking. I never knew what brought about his decision to accompany me, but perhaps he was thinking along the lines of my mother when she decided to come with me to the Soviet Union in 1970, fearing I might defect. More probably, he wanted to see Eastern Europe for himself, and point out some of the deficiencies of the system to me

We flew out to West Berlin, where an East German chauffeur-driven car met us. It was so unusual to see an East German-registered car on the streets of West Berlin that people stopped and stared as we went by, wondering what important personages were being driven around their half of the city in a very up-market East German limousine. The driver said very little until The Wall was spotted with the distinctive East Berlin TV tower behind it, whereupon he gestured towards it and exclaimed proudly: ‘D-D-R’, the German initials for the East German state.

We were whisked through Checkpoint Charlie with the minimum of fuss and arrived at our hotel, where other people on the package holiday had already arrived by various means of transport. We could get little information as to what was happening, and George remarked that this was the ‘couldn’t care less tour’. The courier, when he showed up, definitely had this attitude. No doubt visitors from the West who admired the German Democratic Republic enough to visit it were not very popular with some ordinary East Germans.

We were staying in the Hotel Stadt Berlin, a modern skyscraper block in the rather bleak Alexanderplatz development close to the TV tower. We had a little walk around that evening, and George remarked how deserted and depressing it all looked. This was my first view of the GDR capital through a skeptic’s eyes. To me it was a bright, modern, Socialist city, but I had to admit there was a lack of life and soul as we looked out of our hotel window at the wide, almost deserted streets far below.
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The next day, Friday, we boarded our coach for our journey southwest to Wittenberg, and the church where Martin Luther started the Reformation. It was rather strange to learn all this religious history in an officially atheist state, but the Church was very strong in East Germany, and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was one of the political parties in the Communist-led coalition which ruled the country.

We then drove further south for our overnight stop in Leipzig, but we saw very little of this city, as our group had opted to visit Colditz Castle, which took up most of our time. What we did see of Leipzig was extremely depressing. The huge, dirt-grimed Battle of the Nations Monument, a similarly soot-blackened railway terminus, a very early morning glimpse of St Thomas Church and the old town hall with the modern, skyscraper block of the Karl Marx University in the background. If Berlin seemed depressing, Leipzig was even worse.

I believe it was in Leipzig (or possibly Dresden) a woman asked us for directions to the ‘plastic park’. This was, in fact, a daring open-air exhibition of Henry Moore-type modern sculptures.
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One woman in our group had come on the holiday especially to see a penfriend living in Leipzig, and she met her in the hotel that evening and went off to stay overnight at her home. The other people on the holiday were nearly all admirers of the ‘first Socialist State on German soil’, to use a Communist cliche. Except one, who was a fanatical supporter of Enver Hoxha’s ultra-Stalinist Albania. She was a tall, thin elderly lady with frizzy white hair and glasses, whom we nicknamed ‘Albanian Alice’. Everything we saw was unfavorably compared with a previous visit to Albania. On one occasion we were in a restaurant for our included meal, and she was asked what she would like to drink. She had decided not to spend one DDR Mark on any extras such as drinks on the holiday, and asked for water. The local water was evidently not very good for drinking and they were reluctant to give it to her, whereupon she remarked that you could have as much water as you liked in Albania. That seemed to do the trick, for a glass of water was very quickly provided for her and the reputation of GDR versus Albanian Socialism was thus saved: both could provide drinking water with lunch. Lenin would have been proud of this glorious achievement!

Colditz Castle, famous in Britain for its role as a P.O.W. camp in the War and the various escape attempts, was practically unknown in East Germany. It was simply a psychiatric institution outside Leipzig. Our courier seemed perplexed that we should want to be driven to see such an uninteresting place, and of course we never got to see the inside, just the external view of a rather disappointing looking building from its courtyard. Its position on a craggy hill above the town of Colditz is what made it so impregnable and difficult to escape from, otherwise it was very unremarkable.

Next morning we were driven southwest via Erfurt to the town of Suhl in Thuringia, where we stayed three nights in an hotel on the main square. The modern buildings around the square were decorated with flags for the ‘Free Word’ newspaper’s festival. George lost no time in commenting on the irony of the paper’s name.

Our hotel bedroom window looked out on the main square, where this beer festival kept us awake till the early hours. Still, we enjoyed walking round the food and beer stalls. There were also some fairground rides, and dancing on one corner of the square. We nearly got burnt passing a stall where they were grilling meat and sausages on a barbecue, as boiling oil splashed out on the pavement in front of us and caught fire. Luckily, no-one was hurt.

We also climbed a hill in the older part of town to a kind of fort which gave a panoramic view over the Thuringian forests. One member of our group, evidently bored by the attractions of Suhl, boarded a train to a nearby town. This was strictly illegal, as our visas listed all the towns in the GDR we were visiting, and you were not supposed to deviate from this itinerary without permission. However, no-one checked her visa, so it seemed freedom of movement within the GDR was possible even for visitors.

On the Monday we were driven northwest to Eisenach, very near the border with West Germany. Here we saw Bach’s house, and visited the Wartburg Castle high on a hill. The East German Wartburg motorcar was made in Eisenach, and took its name from the castle.

We were taken round what seemed like every room of this castle by a stern looking guide, who locked us in as he gave us facts and figures about almost every painting, statue and piece of furniture. We had experienced this practice of being locked in before, when we were taken round a church. This is one way of insuring tourists do not wander away from the guide, but it was a very uncomfortable feeling. A small child screamed with the boredom of it all, and the mother got a very hostile look from the guide. I believe the door was eventually unlocked so she and the child could escape the ordeal. Of course, George remarked to me that a country which walls in its people also feels it has to lock visitors into churches and castles to prevent them escaping.

We returned to Suhl for the night, and next day went north to Weimar and nearby Buchenwald. The terrible, oppressive, evil atmosphere of the place was felt even on the road to the former Nazi extermination camp. Once there we saw the various statues and memorials, and our group laid flowers on a memorial to British victims. There was also a macabre exhibition on the site, which George declined to visit. I did, and the horror of lampshades made of human skin and similar objects remain with me today.

One member of our group, another white-haired woman, came out of this exhibition clutching her camera, and commented to George:

‘It was not as good as Auschwitz’, which she had visited previously on a trip to Poland.

George was astounded and horrified, and replied: ‘Good?’ How could anybody use that adjective about such horrific places, unless they were pervertedly turned-on by such atrocities? From then on we categorized ‘Auschwitz Annie’ with Albanian Alice as two of the weirdos on this holiday.

We stayed overnight in Erfurt at the Elephant Hotel, from the balcony of which Hitler once made a speech. Inside it was quite luxurious, with a TV in our bedroom on which we were able to watch both East and West German TV. George pointed out to me how frustrating it must be for ordinary East Germans to daily see TV commercials for products not readily available to them. Western products could only be bought in hard-currency Intershops. However many DDR citizens had West German Marks sent to them by relatives living in the Federal Republic.

Next day we were driven east to Dresden, stopping on the way at the town of Meissen to see the famous porcelain being produced. What is known to the world as ‘Dresden china’ is actually made in this town a few miles outside the city of Dresden.

We spent three nights in Dresden, and we were taken around the reconstructed Zwinger, which had been completely destroyed in the devastating British air raids. The city center was quite modern, and was the first place where we came across the lovely ‘dandelion clock’ type fountains, which we later discovered in other countries.

In a big department store in Dresden we picked up a self-service plastic basket and started going round, but the staff were so rude and unhelpful we gave up in the end and came out without buying anything. George remarked again on the ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude prevalent everywhere in the country. It was also very noticeable that prices in the shops were sky-high for GDR-made electrical goods sold far cheaper in the West. I was shocked to see a GDR food mixer I had bought cheaply mail-order through the Communist ‘Morning Star’ newspaper in Britain priced many times what I had paid here in the country where it was made. Nevertheless rents, transport and basic foodstuffs were heavily subsidized by the State; luxury goods were more expensive.

One woman in our party wandered off on her own in Dresden and got lost. We were due to go somewhere on the coach, and everybody was getting anxious, especially the courier. Suddenly a Vopo (Volkspolizei or People’s Policeman) roared up on his motorcycle, with the missing woman riding behind him and clutching on for grim death. She was wearing a green Vopo crash helmet emblazoned with the East German emblem, and I think was thoroughly enjoying herself pretending to be a GDR people’s policewoman.

On our last day in Dresden we were due to drive east to see the unusual rock formations in Saxon Switzerland, as the area is known. However, we never got that far due to lack of time (possibly due to waiting for the Vopo to deliver our lost fellow traveler). We did visit the Koenigstein Fortress with its magnificent views. Next day we visited Cecilienhof Palace where the Potsdam agreement was signed and also the Sans Souci estate. I had visited both during a visit in 1968. On this occasion, however, we noticed that the ‘Berlin Wall’ (which encircled West Berlin) cut right across the bottom of the garden of Cecilienhof, barring access to the lake beyond, which was part of West Berlin. We walked right up to the inner wire fence with the Wall just beyond it. Just at this point it looked as easy to hop over as any other garden wall, despite the sinister looking watchtower to our right. No doubt anyone attempting such an escapade would have been shot before they got very far, since the actual GDR border was always well beyond the Wall itself. Those West Berliners who painted on the Wall were in fact standing on GDR territory in order to do so.

We had two more nights in Berlin before flying back to London. We visited the Soviet War memorial in Treptow Park, and I took George to the nearby Kultur Park fun fair. We visited all the East Berlin sights, but what delighted us most of all was a little fountain near the Red Town Hall, the TV Tower and the Alexanderplatz complex. It was a small sculpture on a pedestal, consisting of three figures – a man with a half-closed umbrella, a man with a barrel and a peasant woman with some washing. Water trickled from the umbrella, barrel and washing. I know George thought this little fountain was the most beautiful and impressive thing in the whole of East Germany.

The gay scene, which I remembered so fondly from my 1968 visit, and which had proved to me that Socialism and gay liberation could go hand-in-hand, seemed sadly non-existent. At least we never found it. The Mocca coffee bar and nearby G (gay) bar where the scene had been so outrageously blatant eight years before had gone, or were no longer gay. All we found was the sad little City Klause Cafe, with a few depressed looking gays sitting round. There had either been a clampdown since my last visit, or the gay bars had moved elsewhere in the city. This, as much as anything else, helped disillusion me with the GDR in particular and Stalinist style Socialism in general. I so wanted to show George the flourishing, liberated gay scene in the GDR capital.

We returned in style through Checkpoint Charlie in our chauffeur-driven limousine, and flew back to London. Nothing would ever be the same again, as my illusions about Communism in general and the GDR as the model, efficient, modern, Socialist, gay-liberated State had been shattered. It was, at best, an imperfect Socialism marred by a corrupt ruling clique, as with all the Socialist countries.

A few weeks later I knocked on the door of the Secretary of the local Communist Party branch. She was out, so I left all the Treasurer’s papers and books in a carrier-bag in a little cubby-hole near her dustbins with a note saying I was resigning as Treasurer. She scolded me afterwards in a furious letter, accusing me of being ‘emotionally unstable’ (apparently her codeword for ‘being in a gay relationship with a non-Communist’) for rejecting the Stalinist values she thought I shared with her. I apologized for leaving the local Party’s accounts in such a publicly accessible place, but explained how all my illusions were shattered and I just wanted to cut all my ties with the Party. If you do not want to go through the same experience, I wrote, then never visit a Socialist country with someone you care for who sees things as they really are and who will point out all the defects of the system to you.

The red-colored spectacles had finally been removed from my eyes, and I never felt so closely drawn to Soviet or East German style Communism again. It took me a long while to sort my ideas out, before I decided I was in favor of a sort of market socialism, keeping the best of both socialist and capitalist systems as they had in former Yugoslavia. This involves various worker cooperatives and other publicly/socially owned and controlled enterprises competing against each other, not capitalist multi-nationals moving in and dominating the market.

I do believe all the Socialist countries achieved an awful lot despite their imperfections, and the GDR was, along with Yugoslavia, one of the most successful: full employment, good public services, good education and health services (illiteracy was wiped out in Russia and elsewhere), security in old age, rights for women, etc.  Just a pity in 1989-1991 they didn’t build on the good points, try a more efficient Socialist model (such as the Yugoslav one) and correct the things that were wrong.

I still believe the Berlin Wall surrounding West Berlin was an absolute necessity, given that capitalist West Berlin was in the middle of the GDR. Before the Wall was built West Berliners could come over and strip the East Berlin shops of cheap subsidized foodstuffs causing shortages, whilst East Berliners enjoying subsidized rents, public transport, foodstuffs, etc. could commute and get higher paid jobs in West Berlin (where rents, basic foodstuffs, etc. were much higher) paying taxes to the West Berlin authorities. This practice and people moving from East to West, especially scientists and other professionals, was bleeding the East German state dry. But mining the border and shooting people trying to cross illegally was unacceptable.

GDR citizens of pensionable age were free to visit the West, but it should have been made possible for all to cross the border both ways on payment of deposits/export taxes for East and West Berliners. Those commuting from one half of the city to another for work should have paid taxes to both authorities.

A city with two diametrically opposed political/economic systems obviously had to have a physical barrier between them. Even the USA is building and protecting a high security fence between itself and Mexico. All countries have a need to control emigration and immigration.

George and I grew very close politically in later years, and both of us admired the Yugoslav form of Socialism. I suppose we were both left of center in most things without being dogmatic, for we were both aware the pendulum can swing too far either way.

By now we were both working at an Australian company which only involved about half a day’s work for a full day’s pay. They agreed to let George and me staff their telex room, even though we went on holidays together every year, rather than advertise for a telex operator. This suited us, and it was a good job even if the atmosphere was rather Victorian.

The two directors were brothers and they called all the male staff by their surnames only, with no title. Many of the staff had been there since leaving school decades ago and knew nothing of the modern office. Hilda, supposedly a filing clerk, sat looking at Argos catalogs most of the day, planning new accessories for the luxurious ladies room. Meanwhile the men had to make do with a dingy basement room full of unwanted furniture when we took our tea breaks.

George and I had to go into the filing room each day to file the telexes, and when George went in one September day Hilda looked up from the Argos catalog with dreamy eyes and said:  ‘Time to be thinking about Christmassy things.’

George could not stand Christmas at the best of times, and having to sit with this silly woman prattling on about decorations for the office before we had even taken our summer holidays was just too much. One sunny day, when the ex-Company Secretary had died and the directors and several staff members were going to the service, I met Hilda on the stairs and she smiled and whimpered: ‘Lovely day for a funeral.’

Of course she was not as silly as she sounded, for she had the managers wrapped around her little finger and could get whatever she wanted. She had been with the firm about 30 years, and at the annual ladies’ supper it is reported she sat at the head of the table like the Queen. This was a Christmas treat for the female staff members. The men, if we were lucky, got rusty cans of lager unfit for sale to the public.

One year a man who was very bitter at having been made redundant from quite a good job, was employed as the postal clerk. I saw him bashing a pack of cans of lager viciously on the corner of his work surface, till all the cans were dented. He was supposed to be dispatching them for customers’ Christmas orders.

‘That’s another lot of lager that will come back’, he said triumphantly, having assured the male staff got their liquid Christmas bonus that year. He absolutely hated the Directors, who were born in Australia but had thoroughly British accents and mannerisms. One of them asked the postal clerk to fill his fountain pen, so he soaked pieces of blotting paper in the ink before filling it, and mixed in some cold tea for good measure.

‘That’s the last time that old fool will ask me to fill his bloody pen for him’, he said. ‘Who do they think they are? They used to run around the Outback with a load of Abbos, with the arse hanging out of the back of their trousers.’

The genuine Australians, when they came over, were treated like gods. Most of the staff practically knelt down in front of them. The wife of one of these Australian directors was visiting Scotland, and rang down to the office in London for some Fortnum and Masons’ envelopes as she had run out. The receptionist obediently took down all the details and went running off to the store, then arranged for them to be posted up to Scotland. How madam managed in Australia without Fortnum and Masons’ envelopes I have no idea. Quite possibly the receptionist kept her supplied regularly.

Still, we were glad of the job while it lasted. The Directors were a bit stuffy, but did not treat us badly. The wages and holidays were quite generous really, and our hours were just fantastic.

It was on a Saturday in December we did our first gay disco together at one of the Porchester Hall drag balls. We spent Christmas together with Rose and Neil in Hastings, and visited my mother two days afterwards. The next year was to be the last in our first flat together.

In January 1977 we did a disco in Hackney. It was a Communist Party gig booked before I left the Party, but we did it anyway. After playing Brenda Lee’s ‘Let’s Jump The Broomstick’ a woman later came up to us and in a jolly middle-class accent requested ‘the one about the bean-pole’.

The first Sunday in February we went together to see one of George’s favorite actresses in one of his all-time favorite films: Maggie Smith in ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.’ He later did a sketch which I still have on video in which he played the part of Miss Jean Brodie giving ‘her gels’ a sex education lesson in his best, refined Edinburgh accent. (George had lost his Scottish accent years before he met me. His native Glaswegian accent is quite different from that of Edinburgh.)
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Our actress friend Pat threw a party in her Soho flat in late February. She had three cats, all with very posh names. Everyone was sitting around in her main room overlooking Walker’s Court and the Raymond Revue Bar. In the middle of the room was a cat-litter tray. One of the cats came over and made very smelly use of it in full view of all the guests, and Pat simply smiled and said: ‘Oh look everybody, how sweet. Clarissa’s using her tray.’ I arrived at the party late, but George told me what I had missed.

We did a disco in February for the wedding of a work colleague of my mother’s. We played a mixture of rock’n’roll, 60s and 70s pop music and Country’n’Western. I started to play Hank Snow’s ‘Nobody’s Child’ but George told me to take it off quickly. I had completely forgotten the bride was blind, and the song I had been about to play is a Country weepie about a blind orphan nobody wants to adopt. Fortunately we stopped the record during the intro before anyone realized my awful mistake.

At Easter we had a short trip up to Glasgow to visit George’s relatives, later that month (April) we flew off for a week in Malta, staying at Balluta Bay near Sliema, a suburb of Valetta. It was good weather and we enjoyed our holiday, traveling all over the island and also visiting neighboring Gozo. Malta is very dry with not much greenery, and only one decent sandy beach. Golden Bay was a bus ride away at an isolated corner miles from Valetta, near an army firing range. We had a nice day there, but otherwise used the more rocky beaches. We also visited the ‘Silent City’ of Mdina, and ancient ruins on Gozo.

We came back with plenty of pictures of cacti and palm trees, which all looked very exotic. We were in Valetta on May 1st for the ruling Labour Party’s May Day parade. There were some colorful floats made entirely of flowers, though it was more on the scale of Battersea Park’s Easter Parade than the Red Square parade in Moscow.

Malta is a strong Catholic country, and all the buses had little shrines in the front above the driver, alongside the girlie pin-ups. We were walking along a street in Old Valetta’s red light district, and the girls were so desperate to get a client they literally grabbed hold of George’s arm and tried to drag him away from me and into a dive. George had to pull away quite violently, but such forceful tactics were not usually necessary. When approached by a prostitute near the Pigalle in Paris it was sufficient for George to say in French:

‘I’m looking for a man’ whereupon the girl got the message and replied: ‘Moi aussi’ (‘Me also’).

This was to be my year of visiting Mediterranean islands, for shortly before visiting Malta and Gozo, my Dad had invited me to pay my first visit to Cyprus at his expense later in the year.

We spent the weekend at Hastings mainly to get away from the Silver Jubilee celebrations. They had decorated our Victorian street with flags, but fortunately nobody had asked to attach any of this bunting to our house. Both we and our landlord were anti-royalist. Ours was one of the few houses in the street without any patriotic red, white and blue decorations in the windows. They were threatening to hold a children’s street party on the Saturday, and this was just too much – if there was anything we hated more than jingoism and poncing royals, it was spoilt, screaming brats. We jumped in my old van and we were off to see Rose and Neil on the Sussex coast, leaving the royalists and sprogs to take over our street for the day.

In August George’s sister Margaret arrived at Victoria coach station with her little daughter, ‘Wee’ Margaret. His sister had recently been widowed when her husband, George, died suddenly from a heart attack. We had a funny relationship with him – sometimes he seemed hostile and hardly spoke a word, but the last time we saw him when visiting Glasgow he had been very friendly towards us, chatting away and joking.

We drove the two Margarets down to Windsor and visited the safari park, and also took them around London – Carnaby Street, The Tower and all the usual tourist sights. They loved the free children’s zoo in Battersea Park.

The following week we went up to Glasgow for Margaret’s son John’s wedding. After my own George’s funeral, Margaret told her sister Betty that she never realized George was gay, but I find this very hard to believe. Certainly John seemed to know, for he told George he would not think of inviting him to his wedding without me.

In September I flew off to Cyprus with my dad, and met many of my relations for the first time, including my paternal grandmother. My brother, Philip, had met her and my grandfather during a visit in 1966, but on that occasion I had already booked to go to the USSR on my very first trip abroad, so had to forego Cyprus.

My grandfather had since died, but my grandmother was so pleased to see me, having kept photos of me as a baby which my mother had sent her. I did not speak any Greek, and she no English, but it was an emotional meeting. I could not speak either with my Uncle Costas or many other relations. I enjoyed seeing them gather the grape harvest, and even lent a hand while someone took a photo for my album.

The weather was very hot, but I think I only got three hours on the beach during my two week stay. Part of the time was spent in my dad’s flat in Nicosia. It was stifling hot; 97 degrees outside and well over 100 inside. I had to soak my pajamas in cold water several times a night in order to sleep and an hour later they were bone dry again.

I visited the Turkish part of Nicosia, but when in my dad’s flat on the Greek side I tried to watch Pat Coombes in a British TV show on Turkish TV and my father went mad. No-one ever watched the Turkish channel in the Greek part of Cyprus. For this reason my dad did not realize the other part of the island, about a mile away, was an hour ahead. I was able to report back on other things too, such as shop prices. My father was furious to learn that the Turkish lira had replaced the Cypriot pound, and even more irate when he discovered prices over there were much cheaper than on the Greek side.

I was very sympathetic to the plight of the Turkish-Cypriots before and after the Sampson coup to unite Cyprus with the then fascist Greece ruled by a military junta. I also believe there is strong circumstantial evidence that all the events of 1974 which led to the division of the island were part of a NATO plot between USA, UK, Greece and Turkey to rid the island of Makarios because he was considered too ‘pro-Soviet’ and might allow Soviet naval ships to dock in the island’s ports. He survived the coup, but very conveniently died of ‘a heart attack’ three years later, but safely dead is again praised as a national hero.

My father maintained the Turkish-Cypriots were prisoners behind the Nicosia version of the Berlin Wall, and that the Greek-Cypriots would welcome them with open arms, but that the Turkish soldiers shot them if they tried to escape. However, he could not explain why virtually the entire Turkish population of Cyprus, spread throughout the island before the coup and subsequent Turkish intervention (as were the Greek-Cypriots) somehow found themselves ‘imprisoned’ in the North. Of course the former Turkish quarters in all towns and cities on the Greek side told their own story – both populations had been ethnically cleansed and forced to flee to their respective zones. The Greek exodus in the North was forced by the invading Turkish army, but the Turkish exodus in the South came about because of the hostility of the local Greek-Cypriot population. The Turkish Cypriots fled for their lives directly to the North or first to the British Sovereign Bases, and then to North Cyprus.

The two communities have a lot in common, and an almost indistinguishable way of life. Religion, nationality and language divide them. The border has been opened to all Cypriots and foreigners in the first decade of the 21st century, and a permanent solution will hopefully be found.

When not in Nicosia back in 1977, I stayed with friends of my father’s in his village near Paphos. I saw the house where he was born, where my aunt and uncle then lived. They had lived in London for years and my aunt was not at that time happy to be back in the primitive conditions of a Cypriot village.

‘In Kilburn, if I want a chicken for lunch I go to Sainsbury’s’, she told me, ‘but here I have to catch chicken first.’

Everything in the village was very picturesque and traditional. The workers went to the fields on donkeys, though they all had cars, fridges and TVs. Cyprus is a very fertile and rich country, and since everyone in the countryside seems to own their house and a sizeable portion of land, they live very cheaply from produce they grow themselves.

My father was moaning about how much money and land the Church has, and seemed to think they should use it to compensate people like him who had lost land in the North. In the village, however, he had donated a church hall to impress the villagers, despite being an atheist at heart.

During this trip I got to know my father better, and psychoanalyzed him. He seemed to have spent his life trying to make money in order to buy ‘friends’. I found it all rather sad, as he was basically a lonely man. Certainly his own family never saw much of his money – it was boys from the village who were sent to be educated in England, but my brother and I, his own sons, never got a penny from him towards our education. My mother had to struggle to send my brother to university, and I never even got the opportunity.

I was staying with friends and neighbors of my father in his village of Kallepia. My eyes lit up and my heart jumped when he introduced me to Andreas, a handsome 18 year old just out of the army (the Greek Cypriot National Guard). I was to share a bedroom with him. Alas, although I tried to tell Andreas I was gay and to get his interest by wanking like mad when I was in a single bed a few feet from his, he simply fell straight asleep every night, and there was no hanky panky at all, despite all the rumors about Greeks. George said the poor lad was probably deadbeat from working in the fields all day.

Certainly Cyprus is one of the most homophobic societies in the world. My dad said a neighbor in the village who decided he was gay was forced to marry a girl, and they now had a family and he was reportedly ‘cured’. Gay bars hardly exist at all, and if they do are strictly for tourists. Even on a visit in the mid 1990s with two gay friends we found the Cyprus gay scene one of the worst in Europe (and in 2009 it didn’t seem to have improved any).

In 1977 I did manage to have a bit of fun in Nicosia, but the gay scene was all very furtive, and the cruising ground around the city walls either closed or brightly lit at night on subsequent visits. A park a bit further away took over in the mid-1990s, but the gay men cruising were scared of their own shadows, and scuttled away at the slightest noise. Homosexuality was illegal in Cyprus, although they had to change this on paper at least in order to join the EU.

Gays are strongly disapproved of by the Church and the population generally, since it goes totally against Greek-Cypriot culture. In the countryside you cannot even get a home unless you marry. It comes with a wife as a dowry in an arranged marriage, and the top story is built first. The parents of either the husband or the wife move into the ground floor level when they get too old to live on their own. Everyone has to do this – marry, have children and look after their parents. No room in such a culture for gays unless they conform and then look for extra-marital gay encounters in the few sad cottages and cruising grounds on the island.

Although I had no luck with bedding Andreas, he and his family treated me well and showed me around the area. My father took me to a Greek-Cypriot wedding, saying it was a ‘cousin’ getting married. Without further explanation he pushed me through a door into the church, whilst he went through another entrance. I thought it was great as I had a splendid view of the ceremony from the side of the altar. Then a man turned round and said something to me in Greek.  Not understanding Greek, when I did not respond, he spoke in English to demand five Cypriot pounds. My dad had not warned me I was one of the many ‘best men’ and would be expected to contribute, but luckily I had some money on me.

We then followed the couple out of the church, through the village to their house. A mattress was brought out and placed in the street. ‘What next?’ I thought, fully expecting the couple to consummate their marriage then and there in full view of the village. In actual fact, as always with Greek-Cypriots, there was a mercenary motive, for half an hour later the mattress was covered in currency notes and checks, whereupon it was carried back in again.

My dad took me to the beach only once or twice during my entire stay. I was furious at being stuck in a scrapyard in Limassol (which has excellent beaches) sweltering in 100 degree heat one day while he went off ‘to do some business’. Of course, without transport I was trapped – there was no public transport from my dad’s village to the coast. I had to rely on Andreas or my dad to give me a lift. On a later visit my dad lent me his car, which made all the difference.

Whilst in Cyprus I wrote two letters to George, which he kept. They were chatty letters about the holiday. I wrote about meeting my grandmother for the first time: ‘It was so overwhelming emotionally I wanted to cry. The poor old woman kept hugging and kissing me and asking how my leg is now. She has a picture of me as a baby on her wall, and was in tears because she lost a picture of Mum and Philip. So I gave her two photos, one of Mum and one of me, Philip and Mum. She kept kissing Mum’s photo and saying ‘‘O Dorothea, Dorothea’‘ and she told Dad off for not bringing her with us. I told her I’d bring her, but she said she may be dead by then.’

This proved true, for the old lady died a few months after my visit, so she and my mother never met. The remark about my leg was prompted by letters sent to her by my mother when I was a baby, describing operations for a club-foot and the resulting complications.

I then related in my letters Dad’s version of their married life together and the reasons I was not taught Greek, and what led to the split. He blamed much of it on relatives on my mother’s side of the family. ‘Dad says he was driven to drinking and gambling, and says my mum was psychologically ill and a religious maniac.’ I seem to see his point in the letter, and go on to describe how my mother asked him to refuse to serve two women in his restaurant because they were wearing fur coats and she thought they must therefore be prostitutes. Since my mother owned a fur coat herself, my father’s version of this incident may not be strictly accurate, though George would have remarked: ‘We are all prostitutes – including a wife who gets her husband to buy her a fur coat.’

I wrote about how my maternal grandmother made my mother paranoid, and I know my mum now agrees that her mother did have undue influence over her. In the letter I reported my dad’s version when: ‘On one occasion he tried to teach me a few Greek words Mum went hysterical and screamed: ‘‘Don’t talk to him in that bloody language’‘.’ I also reported his claim never to have planned keeping my brother and me in Cyprus as children, but said: ‘I suppose I shall never know the whole truth, but certainly my dad was not solely to blame. I understand him much better now, and think we are much closer.’

This closeness did not last long, though I certainly think I got to understand him better. The main cause of the marriage breakdown was, of course, the culture clash. In rural Cyprus women are merely chattels and servants, and the men sit around all day and do little but sip coffee and play backgammon whilst the women work. My mother was not prepared for that kind of life, and my father could not understand why.

I wrote a little insight into why most Cypriot homes are modern, why everyone seems to own their house, and why even gays marry: ‘Most houses here are modern because every daughter is built a new home by her parents for when she marries. When old people die their house is pulled down.’

After describing enormous tomatoes and huge pork chops, I quoted my Dad reciting a Cypriot proverb: ‘If you find food eat, if you find work run away.’

As to my dad’s version of the marriage problems, I have now come to the conclusion he felt trapped, having made my mother pregnant before they were married and my mum’s brothers who were policemen (my maternal grandfather had also been a police sergeant) apparently came down heavy on him, telling him he had to marry her.

The culture clash didn’t help, and nor did his drinking, gambling, womanizing and beating my mother up when drunk. So clearly my father was largely to blame for the bad marriage and subsequent separation and divorce. It is perhaps best summed up in my father’s stated view of a wife’s role when my mother asked why they never went out together: ‘In Cyprus we have a saying: “women and dogs stay in the house”’. On another occasion she asked why he slept with prostitutes and waitresses from his restaurant: ‘Don’t you love me anymore?’ ‘Yes, of course I love you,’ my father replied. ‘I love baked beans, but I don’t want them every night!’ Being put on a par with dogs and baked beans does little for a marriage, or a woman’s esteem.

Christmas Day we spent at my mother’s place, then went down to Rose and Neil in Hastings on Boxing Day and stayed two nights.

We had a New Year’s Eve party, the last in our first home together. A lot of our friends came, including Freda in full glamorous theatrical drag. Just as we were in the middle of preparations on New Year’s Eve I got a phone call from my dad in Cyprus to say that Andreas, the boy from his village with whom I shared a bedroom in September, was on a flight to Heathrow, and could I meet him and take him to my father’s flat in Hampstead.

Typically of my dad this came straight out of the blue with no warning whatsoever, so after a hurried discussion with George, it was decided I would dash off in the van, meet Andreas and bring him back to the party, and take him to my father’s flat later that night or the next day.

I believe I greeted the first guests, and then drove to Heathrow to collect Andreas. The poor boy had never been abroad before, and certainly had never seen a big city like London. All he really knew was primitive village life in rural Cyprus. Imagine the culture shock on arrival at Heathrow and being driven down the motorway to a gay party in suburban London.

Andreas was bewildered at all these strange English people packed into our flat. Which were men and which were women? It was so hard to tell. He looked at Freda, and I explained it was a man dressed as a woman, then he looked at our actress friend Pat, and I assured him she was a real woman. He then looked back at Freda and queried: ‘Man dressed as woman?’

Of course all the gays at the party were just drooling over this gorgeous young Greek god who had just walked into their midst, and we had to keep explaining he was not gay (despite the myths about Greeks) and had just arrived from a village in Cyprus. I was probably the only out gay person he had ever met prior to leaving Cyprus, and he had certainly never seen a drag queen before.

He had a few drinks and seemed to be enjoying himself, but eventually it was all too much for him and he asked me to take him to my dad’s flat. So I had to leave the party and drive him across London. I forgot about it being the early hours of New Year’s Day, and drove up The Mall and through Trafalgar Square, where people were swarming all over the road wearing funny hats, blowing hooters, twirling football rattles, and banging on cars.

One guy staggered up to us and thumped on the van shouting: ‘Happy New Year.’ From the look on Andreas’ face he clearly thought all the English were stark raving mad, and must have wondered how he would survive in this strange new world where men dressed as women and people walked around all night in a drunken stupor making a noise and stopping traffic. My father’s empty flat in Hampstead must have seemed like a haven of sanity to him as I dropped him off, quickly showed him where everything was and dashed back to the party.

In early 1978 an acquaintance of George’s (I would not use the word friend) wanted us to move his few sticks of furniture from his West London room to his mother’s house in East Anglia, where he was going to live. George thought he was only after his mother’s house and money, and I have no reason to doubt his judgment. This person was very vain and talked non-stop about himself all the way down in my van. He used to go ‘on the game’ in drag, and he told us how he crossed himself every time he passed a Catholic church because God had been so good to him.

He said he would treat us to a meal for helping to move his stuff, and instructed us to stop at a hamburger joint with waitress service. He then humiliated the waitress, telling her he knew her big boss personally (it was a large chain) and realized how poorly his staff were paid, but not to worry as he would give her a big tip. I think he left her 10 pence.

We got to the town and met his mother, a frail old lady. We were horrified when he told her to go upstairs to bed. He had shown us her bedroom, and it was up a steep, dangerously winding staircase. George was convinced he hoped his mother would fall and break her neck. His praises of her were over-the-top – about how he thanked God every day for such a wonderful mother and hoped nothing happened to her.Â

We lost touch with him eventually and thought he must have died. Long after George’s death he rang me out of the blue, looking for a place to live in London. His mother had died and evidently he had not inherited the house. I told him about George’s death, but he was not the least interested, though he had known George far longer than he knew me. Without offering condolences or inquiring what happened, he just said: ‘And I lost my dear mother, but I’m still as young and more beautiful than ever, darling. I really am, I look younger than ever.’

He inquired after a mutual friend, and I told him he was still at the same address. Months later I discovered he had moved into a room in the same house. The person who told me said that, far from looking younger than ever, he looked rather old, his hair having gone completely white. Later still he changed his name to ‘Gloria’ and his religion from Roman Catholic saying: ‘I’m a good Jewish girl now darling.’ He had evidently found himself a rich Jewish ‘husband’ or ‘client’!

The year 1978 was certainly to bring a big change, for in early March we were to leave our first home of our own together.

12. JAY COURT                      Â

 We had put our name on the council waiting list only the previous year, thinking we never stood a chance. In a very short space of time we were offered a lovely, centrally heated, two-bedroomed flat on the 18th floor of a tower block. We jumped at the opportunity.

There was a policy by the then Labour council in Wandsworth to get families with young children out of tower blocks, and move single people in. This was why we only had to wait about a year. A few months later a Tory council was elected, and the scheme was scrapped.

When I put our names on the council list, I had hoped to be able to get a flat in Camden, where I had been raised till the age of 6, returned to for 5 years in 1968, and where both my parents still lived (in separate flats). I soon learnt there was no chance; because we had landed in Battersea by accident, we were stuck there, even though we had no connexions at all with the area and most of our friends and family lived north of the River. The only chance of getting to another borough was by taking inferior council accommodation locals had rejected, or accepting a flat in Battersea and later getting an exchange. In actual fact, once we moved into Jay Court we did not really want to leave. We did apply for some Camden flats, but the ones we were offered came nowhere near the standard of our Battersea flat.

We had two cats, and since they were used to going out in our backyard, we thought it unfair to keep them in a high-rise flat without a balcony. So my mother had them both for a time, but eventually we took Dixie back, and he settled in OK. My mother kept Dinkie, our other cat.

During March we were busy getting our new flat straight, and having furniture and carpets delivered. Our previous flat had been partly furnished, so there was quite a lot to buy.

No sooner were we straight, than we were off to Brussels for Easter, which fell at the end of March that year.

We crossed the Channel by hovercraft on Good Friday, and had an enjoyable weekend, returning on the Monday. Brussels is not the most exciting of European cities, but we saw what there was to see, including the famous Mannequin de Pis (a fountain in the guise of a little boy pissing), which is tiny and quite hard to find. We also saw the various costumes the statue wears on special occasions.

We paid a visit to the Atomium, left over from a big international exhibition held in Brussels in the 1950s, a sort of equivalent to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. We went up inside the structure, but it has never become as famous or popular as the Paris tower.

There were some interesting Japanese and Chinese pagodas nearby, but we missed perhaps the most exciting architecture in Brussels, the buildings designed in art nouveau style by Victor Horta. His work in Brussels was apparently similar to Gaudi’s in Barcelona, but we had no knowledge of either architect at the time.

In June George’s two sisters came down to London to stay for a few days, and they were followed by George’s cousin, her husband and her mother at the end of July, who stayed for two weeks.
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George was very fond of his Auntie Rose, whom he lived with for a while when his father died. His cousin, Margaret, and her husband were a wonderful couple, who could not do enough for people. Neither Margaret nor her mother were fond of cats, yet they soon got used to Dixie, our cat, and by the end of the fortnight Margaret was spoiling it thoroughly with tins of salmon bought from Marks and Spencer. It took us weeks to wean him back on to regular canned cat food.

We took them to Windsor, Richmond and Kew Gardens, and they also visited the usual tourist sights in London, including the Royal Mews. We all went down to Portsmouth for the day to see George’s Uncle Robert and his wife. This became a regular trip whenever George’s cousin came to London.

We took them all to see ‘The Two Ronnies’ at the London Palladium, They enjoyed the show, but Auntie Rose suffered from vertigo, a fact we didn’t know when we booked tickets up in the gods. For the first 15 minutes or so she was very nervous of looking steeply down at the stage at all.

Another mistake, according to Margaret’s husband John, was to take them to Brent Cross shopping center. Margaret and her mother were delighted with the shops, but John pretended to be horrified as they rushed round seeing where they could spend their (his) money.

‘Oh, this is the worst place you could have brought them,’ he joked. He liked his little dram and would no doubt rather spend his money in a pub, or rather a Trades and Labor club where the drinks were cheaper. His wife, however, strongly disapproved of drinking, but they joked about each other’s extravagances and seemed to get on very well. John was always in a good humor, and both were very generous.

For the August Bank Holiday weekend we went down to Somerset with my mother to stay with her friend in Porlock. My brother Philip turned up there with a friend in tow. Since Philip had never shown any interest in girls, and was now nearly 30, my mother expected another male potholing buddy, but to her delight and surprise it was a girl, Hilda. We met them on the beach by Porlock Weir, and Philip and I went in swimming, but when it was finally time for them to go, Hilda shook hands with everybody else but pointedly ignored George’s proffered hand. I did not notice this at the time, but George was understandably deeply hurt. This was the start of a long breach in relations with my brother. His wife hated my name so much she forbade it to be spoken in her house, and made this fact obvious to my mother. The only possible reason for this hatred could be that we were a gay couple.

Philip and Hilda came back to London with us, and for the one and only time actually came into our flat. I remember them standing holding hands looking out at the view from our 18th floor window.

In September we flew to Spain for a week of touring, and a second week by the sea in Lloret. It was the forerunner of many late September holidays we were to spend in Lloret, and as we always went that time of year it is pure chance we were not there at the time George died in 1991. We had broken the pattern and gone a week earlier to Jersey instead that fateful year.

In 1978 we flew out to Barcelona on Monday September 25th, and stayed overnight in an hotel just off The Ramblas. We did not have that long to explore the city, but I remember venturing out of our hotel that evening after we arrived and going across The Ramblas to wander the narrow streets of the Old Town and see what we took to be the old cathedral, but years after George died I discovered it was just a church, when I found the real old cathedral in a square.

Next day we were driven south to Valencia for sightseeing and an overnight stop, and the following day we moved on to the capital, Madrid. My first impression was how tall the buildings were. It seemed like an American city, with its canyon-like streets of buildings at least 9 stories tall. In the center of the city were much taller buildings, reminiscent of 1930s New York skyscrapers. There were also some impressive monuments and fountains, including a very modern waterfall fountain in a central square where it was possible to walk along a passage behind the waterfall – very cooling on a hot day in this city in the center of sunny Spain. We also visited the famous Prado art gallery and saw its paintings by Heronius Bosch and others.

Our hotel was on the outskirts of the city, a very pleasant little hotel with a half-timbered dining room, reminiscent of an English inn.

Whilst in Madrid, we visited the ancient city of Toledo nearby, and witnessed a religious procession for one of the Spanish festival days. Toledo was impressive, with its huge castle on a hill towering over the town and the Spanish plain.

En route to Madrid we had made a stop at Old Medinaceli, another interesting town, and en route from Madrid to our overnight stop in Lerida we visited the city of Saragossa.

On Sunday October 1st we arrived in the tiny principality of Andorra, the Catalan statelet sandwiched between Spain and France. It is a mountainous little country in The Pyrenees, and is basically two small towns arranged along two valleys, joining in a ‘V’ shape. The principal town is Andorra La Vella, which consists mainly of hotels and duty-free shops where you see French and Spanish people loading up their cars with TV sets, hi-fi equipment, etc.. We spent one night in an hotel here, and had a drive up into the mountains almost to the French border. There was snow up there, and we just briefly emerged from the coach for a photo, but without winter coats it was too cold to linger.

Then it was on to Lloret de Mar for our second week, relaxing by the sea. The town quite impressed us because, although a very commercialized tourist center, the main resort for the then popular Costa Brava, it was a genuine old Catalonian town with some beautiful buildings and narrow streets. Unlike artificial places such as Magaluf in Majorca, which we had visited previously, and which were created solely for tourists, consisting of huge tower block hotels and holiday apartments. Lloret only had one tall building, and boasted a Ramblas lined with palm trees and some interesting old buildings, a very colorful little domed church and the inevitable castle overlooking the sea. It also had an excellent beach of coarse sand, though the sea shelved rather steeply and deeply for non-swimmers.
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At night Lloret came to life, its narrow shopping streets a blaze of neon with discos, bars and shops. The main modern street leading down to the sea from the bus station had a canal running down the center. At least in winter it was probably a canal, as the rains drained from the inland hills down into the sea. In summer it was a large, dry, cemented, excavation with a pathetic trickle of water winding its way down the center.

We also made a visit to the nearby resort of Tossa de Mar, which is smaller and quieter than Lloret, but also boasts a castle on a hill overlooking the sea.

On the Friday before returning we went to nearby Blanes and caught a train along the coast into Barcelona, as we had only spent one evening there at the beginning of our holiday. Here we discovered what was to become one of our favorite cities in the world, largely due to the fantastic art nouveau architecture of Antonio Gaudi.

We were very impressed by his still unfinished (in fact hardly started when you look at the plans for the finished building which will be massive) Sagrada Familia. This is an art nouveau church (more like a cathedral), started about 100 years ago. The original Nativity Facade is the most interesting since it was built largely whilst Gaudi was still alive. Run over by a tram, work on his Sagrada Familia virtually stopped during the Franco years, and was only continued after the downfall of the dictator who disapproved of this unorthodox Catalan architect. The newer facade follows Gaudi’s overall design, but incorporates many modern sculptures not in Gaudi’s art nouveau style.

We also discovered some of Gaudi’s other buildings, including the really unbelievable Casa Battlo, with its dragon’s back roof and cave-like windows, and the larger Casa Mila, occupying a corner site further up the road. On later visits to Barcelona we were to venture inside these fantastic buildings, and even get on the roof of the Casa Mila.

On this first full day in Barcelona we also discovered the Guell Park with its fairy-tale pavilions, walls, sculptures, staircase, terrace and tunnels, all in Gaudi’s art nouveau style. There was also some wonderful art nouveau iron-work in the form of gates and fences. We were so impressed by Gaudi’s work, not least this delightful little park, we were distressed to see children playing on the terrace with its winding, snake-like seats, because they were ruining its colorful mosaics. On a later visit to the park one year to the day after George’s death I was pleased to see these seats were being restored to their original condition, and at the hour of George’s death a year later I left a tiny sprig of flowers in one of the art nouveau tunnels we had first discovered on this trip in October 1978. The park was one of George’s favorite places on this Earth.

Whilst staying in Lloret, we also visited nearby Blanes, but were not impressed with this rather dull town. However we ran into two cockney brothers from our hotel whilst passing a bar on the sea front, and they urged us to go in and join them in a drink.

‘C’mon, ‘s’cheap, ‘s’luvly’ one of the middle-aged brothers slurred.

He was chatting away about the delights of cheap beer, to the obvious annoyance of local Catalans watching on TV the somber funeral of The Pope, who had died a few days previously. They kept giving us withering glances, and when we pointed this out to our cockney friend and signaled him to speak more softly, he just looked round at the TV and said untactfully:

‘Oh they’re just burying some old Pope, don’t worry ‘bout that mate. Drink up, ‘scheap, ‘s’luvly’.

After two more days in Lloret, we flew back to London on the Monday. The two cockney brothers were in a high state of intoxication at the airport as they tried to consume as much duty-free booze as possible before the flight. They were still exclaiming ‘drink up, ‘s’cheap, ‘s’luvly’, and most of the other passengers seemed to agree, as they were either drinking or smoking duty-free goods, or both. This was the typical Costa Brava tourist at the time, attracted by cheap booze, sun, sea and sand (with possibly a bit of sex as well if they were lucky and drunk enough.)

We had done our own thing, however, and avoided the bars and places where the lager louts hung out, discovering the more interesting delights of Catalonia, as well as enjoying the beaches. We were to return many times, but not for a few years yet.

Coming up at the end of the year was my brother Philip’s wedding, but his bride-to-be, Hilda, had stipulated George was not welcome. This message was conveyed through my mother, and the excuse was it was a ‘family only’ affair. It so happened George and I had arranged to go to Scotland for the New Year, and we had planned to stop off in Settle for the wedding, but after this shocking news, the first firm evidence of Hilda’s raging homophobia, we both decided to skip their wedding and go straight to Glasgow.

I was visiting my father in his London flat a few weeks prior to the wedding, and when he heard I was not attending he was furious. I explained the reason why, and he fairly exploded. He got on the phone straight away to Philip and told him in no uncertain terms that his brother was coming to his wedding and would bring whoever he liked. Philip and Hilda, being very aware of my father’s money, did not dare upset him, and meekly agreed to his demand. To save a further family row, George and I agreed to stop off at Settle for a few hours for the wedding on the way up to Scotland, but we were not happy about it, and there was a strained atmosphere throughout our visit.

Hilda’s relations were quite amiable – her brother was nice, and a butch female relative was obviously gay, and very friendly towards us. Hilda and Philip were very distant, and accepted our wedding gift as grudgingly as we gave it. My mother gave them a dinner service she could ill afford, and told Hilda it was complete apart from some vegetable dishes which were extra to the set, and Hilda turned round and said:

‘Oh, we’d like the vegetable dishes as well, please’.

So my mother, an old age pensioner, had to go home and order the vegetable dishes to add to their wedding gift.

When they were about to cut the two-tier wedding cake, my mother said it was tradition to save the top tier for the first baby’s christening. She was obviously thrilled at the prospect of one day being a grandmother. Her dreams were quickly shattered by Hilda who remarked sharply: ‘There’ll be none of THAT nonsense!’ We have never been able to work out ever since whether ‘THAT nonsense’ referred just to kids, or to all sexual relations.

 As we came out of my father’s car on the way to the reception, he had  handed Hilda gold watch, and she was positively fawning over my dad.
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The whole thing made us sick, and we could hardly wait to board the Settle-Carlisle railway to complete our journey to Glasgow that night. Everyone told us what fools we were to miss the most picturesque railway ride in England by traveling at night and I’ve regretted  this stupid decision ever since, but we were just pleased to leave and head for the welcome of a Scottish Hogmanay.

We left Settle at 7pm, and arrived in Glasgow 10pm that night. Next day was New Year’s Eve, when the festivities began. It was another enjoyable Hogmanay spent in Glasgow with George’s relations, who all made me feel welcome and one of the family. Such a change after the hostility of my brother and his wife.

We returned from Glasgow on January 4th and a relatively quiet few months followed.

It may have been a very unlucky day to choose, but April the 13th was Good Friday, and we were off to spend Easter in Paris. It was very good weather, and we visited all the usual sights on Saturday (Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Notre Dame) and spent Easter Day in Pere Lachaise cemetery visiting the famous (and the infamous) in their final resting place, and the remainder of the day we spent around Sacre Coeur in the Montmarte area.

On this occasion we had not booked a room in advance, so looked for an hotel when we arrived. We found one, but the only room available was a sort of hut on the roof. Inside it was a proper room, very basic and a bit sordid, but full of the Paris atmosphere we loved so much. It was a marvelous weekend, with the weather so warm it was almost like summer.

Saturday June 30th was the day of the annual Gay Pride festival in London, and George went along, but Mum and I were off to Glasgow to stay with George’s cousin, visiting Philip and Hilda in the English Lake District on the way back. For some reason George could not come with us. Although we both worked in the same office, we usually managed to get holidays off together. Perhaps this was one time we couldn’t, or perhaps the visit to Philip and Hilda put him off.

George’s cousin and her husband made us very welcome, and she took us on the local train to Loch Lomond. We had a boat ride on the loch, and a coach trip right round it. I also took my mother to Helensburgh, and to visit at least one of George’s sisters.

The stony cold reception which greeted us at Philip and Hilda’s house was such a contrast to the warm hospitality of Margaret and John in Scotland, who were not even related to us. My brother and his wife just acted as if my mother and I did not exist. They sat all evening hardly talking to us, Hilda looking at school books (she was a schoolteacher who hated kids) and Philip reading, while the TV was tuned inaudibly to boring programs nobody was watching. They did not attempt to make conversation with us, or ask what we would like to see on TV. If we tried to talk we just got sharp, one syllable answers which clearly told us to shut up.
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We felt most uncomfortable, especially as every now and then she and Philip would bend their heads close together and start whispering confidences to each other. At one point during our stay my mother was telling Hilda something and she just got up and walked out of the room.

Philip used to share my tastes in music, but his Country and Rock’n’Roll record collection, including a lot of Jerry Lee Lewis albums, seemed to have been relegated by Hilda to the back shelf in favor of classical albums. Certainly I never heard him play any of the music he used to like either at home or in the car.

My mother and I visited Ullswater by bus and spent a pleasant day, and on the day we were returning home Philip drove us to Hilda’s parents by the scenic route. I had brought some Glasgow goodies for George (potato scones, black pudding, lorn sausage, etc.) and Hilda had put it in her fridge to keep it fresh. Quite deliberately she insured it remained in her fridge. I am convinced she planned it all beforehand.

We were sitting in their lounge, when suddenly Hilda popped her head in the door without any warning and said: ‘Come on, we’re off’.

She had her coat on, and Philip was already in the car, having loaded our cases. So we just had to grab our coats and run. When we were safely miles away on the Yorkshire Moors, Hilda turned round to me in the car, smiling sweetly, and said sarcastically: ‘And did you remember to take George’s things out of the fridge?’ Of course she knew full well she had not given me a chance to remember. Philip offered to go back for them, but she said: ‘Oh no you will not!’

She later insured he did not go back afterwards either. She had an appointment at the hairdresser’s near her parents’ place, but canceled it so she could come in the car with us to make sure Philip did not go back for George’s things. It was all incredibly petty, but it created further very bad feeling after the business over the wedding and not shaking hands with George the first time we met Hilda.

At her parents’ house they served up strawberries for dessert, and there was some trouble because Hilda did or did not want cream or sugar, I cannot remember the details. I know Philip snatched away her dish and like a dutiful husband tried to put things right, but Hilda went into a sulk and said: ‘No, I don’t want them now’, and refused to eat them at all.

It was all so childish, and when I got home and related the story to George he remarked that Hilda had acted like a spoiled child. He urged me to write a letter to Philip, saying it was my duty as a brother to make sure he treated my mother properly, and that he appreciated all she had done for him. Hilda and Philip kept on very good terms with my father, who had money, and Hilda valued Philip’s university education, but my father had not paid a penny towards it. My mother had to sacrifice the little money earned from her job to help keep Philip at university, and look after him in the holidays.

I wrote a letter and tried to tactfully remind him of this and other things Mum had done for him. I thanked him for all he had done for us during our visit, but also pointed out we felt uncomfortable particularly when they both had their noses in books and kept whispering to each other, which I said was very impolite in company. Perhaps unwisely, with George’s encouragement, I remarked that Hilda had acted like a spoilt child.

Of course Hilda read this letter, though it was not addressed to her, and it was the excuse she had been looking for. She made Philip cut all ties with me, and decreed my name was never to be mentioned in her house again. From that day till our father got terminally ill in 1998, Philip never contacted me or sent me a Christmas card, and all communications to him from me went unanswered. In 1995 Philip made the one exception in breaking all contact by phoning me obviously to make sure I was not visiting my dad, who was in London for a few days, on the same day as Philip and Hilda. This happened once before when my dad was staying with some relations on his annual UK visit. I knew Philip and Hilda would be there and wondered if I should go, but George insisted I did and that I get there before they arrived. They were forced to talk to me, and seemed to act as if nothing had happened. But afterwards I got the cold shoulder again. Philip’s phone call that time was to make sure there was not a repeat performance when Hilda would have to tolerate my presence.

My mother went up to their house after George died and mentioned my name a few times. When she did so to Philip, his eyes began filling with tears and he rushed upstairs. When she mentioned my name to Hilda she glared at her with such a look of hatred my mother was taken aback. She told me she had never seen a look of such utter evil in anyone’s face before. However, when I met them in Cyprus for my father’s funeral in 1998, she had mellowed, and even became quite friendly towards me after the initial ice was broken. Is it cynical to wonder if my being a potential fellow inheritor of my father’s wealth whose cooperation was needed for any legal formalities had anything to do with it? Certainly they needed my cooperation to contest the Will which they were not satisfied with, but perhaps Hilda had just become more mature in her attitude towards me over the years.

At the end of September George and I were off on the big trip, our first transatlantic venture to the States. The air flight to New York was a nightmare. When we boarded the PanAm jumbo we discovered someone was sitting in one of our seats. A stewardess came along, and told us there was no time to sort the problem out now as the plane was about to taxi ready for take off. She told me to sit down in the available seat, and whisked George off to the first class section. That was the last I saw of him for the entire eight hour flight. Of course the plane should never have taken off at all with seats double-booked, which meant there were not enough for all the passengers.

During the flight I asked if I could join George, and the stewardess refused, saying I could not even go and talk to him as I was not allowed into first class. I found out he was seated upstairs in the first class dining section, without any company or films to watch. I then asked the stewardess if we could at least change places for a few hours, so George could come down and watch a film, but she refused this request too.

I later learned from George that not only had he been stuck alone for many hours (apart from the odd crew member who would come in from time to time) without any film, audio entertainment or anyone to talk to, but when the first class passengers came up for their meal he was treated like an outcast. When he saw rare roast beef (his favorite meat) being carved from the joint, he thought at least he had this consolation, and was astounded and dejected when they brought him a regulation economy class meal on a plastic tray. Not only was it mental torture whilst everyone around him was tucking into roast beef, but it was extremely humiliating, as the first class passengers kept glaring at this second-class intruder eating his economy meal in their midst, making it plain they felt he had no right to be there.

When we finally reached New York and met up in JFK airport, George was in a terrible state and wanted to catch the next plane back home. The final insult was when he complained, and the stewardess told him he had nothing to complain about as he had been treated as a first class passenger. Of course we later wrote and got some cash compensation, but it was a dreadful start to the holiday.

Of course, we did not turn back. We joined the long line for U.S. Customs and Immigration, and the final straw for George was when he was accused of not declaring a banana (it was left uneaten during the unhappy flight), and it was promptly confiscated with a warning it was a serious offense to try to smuggle a banana into the Big Apple (or more precisely, into the U.S.).

However, once we left JFK airport, we instantly fell in love with New York. The sheer excitement of approaching Manhattan with its dramatic skyline soon made us forget the traumas of the journey out. We were ready to begin the first of our great American adventures.

We arrived in the evening, and then had two full days in New York. During that time we did all the sights, visiting the Statue of Liberty by boat, going up the Empire State Building and World Trade Center, visiting Chinatown, Times Square and Central Park. We discovered lesser known delights such as the Flat-iron Building, so named because of its shape, and reportedly the world’s first skyscraper.

On this and subsequent visits to the Big Apple we enjoyed the culinary delights of New York such as the huge beef sandwiches which were a meal in themselves, and the Blarney Stone chain of licensed restaurants which not only served these sandwiches, but had a bar down one side, and a self-service food counter down the other where they carved huge portions of meat from the joint and topped it off with vegetables. We also discovered strange exotic drinks like Orange Juliuses, which actually came in several flavors.

New York seemed to have everything in abundance, and not just delicious food. The gay sex scene was as free as in Amsterdam, but all the establishments here were bigger and better. We visited the enormous Adonis cinema, which also had a bar and a disco dance floor attached if I remember rightly, and numerous backrooms including one behind the cinema screen, where you watched the porno film back-to-front. There were other gay clubs on several levels with very spacious, exotic backrooms, and most of these establishments gave you tickets so you could wander in and out of several all night long. It all seemed so civilized compared to Nanny-State Britain at the time.

Of course unknown to anybody, HIV was then becoming rampant in places like New York. I found a hotel check in George’s 1979 diary, and he wrote to a friend that he took a sailor back to his hotel. I believe, if George did come into contact with the virus in New York, it was probably when he went back to an hotel with this guy or somebody else. I was at least as active on the New York backroom scene as George was, yet do not ever remember practising what we now know to be unsafe (unprotected anal) sex in any of them. The reason it was so dangerous visiting New York at that particular time was that the HIV/AIDS epidemic was already spreading there like wildfire, yet no-one knew about it or what precautions to take.

We were staying in an hotel near Washington Square called the Gramercy Park, after the area where the hotel was located. The Square itself was an oasis of parkland with a fountain at the center, and was a hive of activity day and night. Skateboarders and drug pedlars were everywhere, and the New York Police Department seemed at the time to take almost as liberal an attitude over cannabis as the Amsterdam police did. At any rate it seemed to be on sale quite openly, especially in Washington Square judging by all the dealers inviting the passing public to ‘check it out’, referring to their wares.

We rode the Subway down to the Battery, and ventured Uptown as far as Harlem. I think the city cast its spell on both of us. Certainly I felt this was the only place to be on Earth. It was like coming home to where I belonged. It seemed everyone belonged in New York, a huge cosmopolitan city where all races and nationalities mingled. It is the melting pot of the world, and I felt proud to be a New Yorker even for only a few days. It may well have been on this occasion the Pope visited New York whilst we were there, and we caught a brief glimpse of the ‘Pope-mobile’ as he drove past. Whilst waiting for it a woman remarked that the top of the Empire State was still covered in mist, evidently a New Yorker’s way of judging the weather, and I felt privileged to be part of it all.

New York is full of the kind of real odd-ball characters who disappeared from London streets years ago. The people are friendly – you only have to open a map and they gather round to show you the way. Transport is very inexpensive, as is everything except the theater, though nowadays London seat prices have more or less caught up.

We arrived in New York Monday evening, and on Thursday we were off by bus (coach) to Newport, Rhode Island. On the way we stopped off at Mystic Village in Connecticut, a delightful but artificial looking place. Newport had a very English-looking church, where John F. Kennedy was married. The harbor and some of the other buildings had a very English feel about them too, but of course we were in New England.

That evening we drove to Cape Cod for our overnight stay, but all we saw of it was a typical American ‘strip’: a highway lined with fast-food outlets, blazing neon and huge signs on high poles. We were advised to eat in the restaurant of the hotel, but we decided to find a place by ourselves and risked life and limb by trying to walk down the strip, which of course had no sidewalks. I think we reached Wendy’s hamburger joint, which had waitress service. All we wanted was the kind of place where you went up to a counter to get served. So we decided we might as well go back to the hotel restaurant, and we were so glad we did. As we sat down at our table the waitress introduced herself:

‘Hi, I’m Millie and I’m your waitress for tonight….’. She showed us the menu, and we decided on roast beef. Instead of a thin sliver of meat, we were amazed when we were each served with the equivalent of the British weekly joint, either of which would have fed an English family of four for several meals. We remarked on this fact to Millie, who shook her head in sad disbelief that the English should be so starved as to make one meal go so far. The bill, when it came, was extremely reasonable, and we were pleased we did not chomp into a hamburger at Wendy’s, delicious as they may well have been.

Friday we stopped of at Plymouth, Massachusetts where the Pilgrim Fathers landed. We saw Plymouth Rock, a statue to the original Americans (a Native American) and a replica of the Mayflower.

We stopped for about an hour in Boston, but did not see as much of it as we might because my watch had broken, and we spent most of the time looking for somewhere to get it fixed. We walked through a big market arcade, and eventually found a department store where they mended my watch free of charge. That is American service for you.

We then drove across the river to the other half of the city, known as Cambridge. Here we visited the campus of the famous Harvard University, which also looked very English indeed.

Saturday we drove to Camden, Maine where we stopped for about an hour. During that time I was accosted by a woman on the waterfront who invited me back to her place for ‘a party’. Evidently she thought I looked like a ‘swinger’, but I had to feebly make my apologies by explaining I was just a tourist who had to be back on his bus within the hour.

We drove through the beautiful New England countryside with its brilliant fall colors, and crossed the border into Quebec. Eventually we reached Quebec City, where we were staying for a couple of nights. It is probably the most European city in North America, and the location for many North American films when they want a European setting without the expense of a transatlantic trip. It actually has walls round it and turreted gates, and inside are narrow streets which could easily be taken for Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris or almost anywhere else in Europe. There are also impressive French-style chateaus and towers with pointed green roofs. We loved the city because it seemed so different and out of place in North America. The language, of course, is French, but a peculiar kind hard to understand if you are used to the European dialects. George spoke French quite well, but found it very difficult to understand the Quebec variety.

Next we drove on to Montreal, and stayed in a large room with our own cooking facilities. We bought some bacon and eggs and George cooked us a meal. I have a photo of him cooking over the gas stove, with the open fridge full of cans, and another photo shows me at our own dining table eating the meal he cooked. In yet another corner of the huge room or suite was a large sofa and armchair and a color TV. Of course by now we had discovered the multi-channel entertainment on offer in North America, with an endless choice of programs old and new.

Whilst in Montreal we went to the cinema and saw ‘Apocalypse Now’, a film George appreciated more than myself. I think I found it just too heavy, and a bit above my head.

As we left the city in the bus, bound for English-speaking Canada and the capital, Ottawa, Montreal was receiving one of its first falls of snow that winter, and on October 9th the ground was already carpeted with a thin covering of white.

Ottawa, like Quebec City, had some interesting European-looking buildings, especially the neo-Gothic spires of the Parliament Building. We arrived on the day of the opening of Parliament, and were privileged enough to see the new Prime Minister, Joe Clark, and his wife go past in a horse-driven open carriage, escorted by the Mounties in their scarlet uniforms.

Next day we were due to move on to Toronto for two nights, but George had arranged with his cousin, Sally, for her to meet the bus en route so we could spend the night at her place in Peterboro’, a town some miles from Toronto. We stopped at Kingston, Ontario for a short break, and viewed a Mississippi-style paddle-steamer and an old Canadian Pacific steam engine which were on display, and then George phoned Sally to give her an idea what time to intercept the bus.

As we drove the final lap to Toronto, Sally and her husband Bill met us in their car by a road junction, and the coach stopped and let us off with our luggage. Sally and Bill drove us back to their house, where we briefly met their adolescent sons. It so happened my own cousin also lived in Peterboro’ at the time, so we gave him a ring and he popped over to collect us. We met his wife, Tina, and their two young children, and had a pleasant chat. Tina was a Mormon, but apparently my cousin Bruce was not.

Time was drawing on and we felt trapped there, with no means of escape. George was getting very agitated, since we had really stopped off in Peterboro’ to see Sally and Bill, and it was they who were putting us up for the night and had made all the arrangements to meet the bus. Finally Bruce gave us a lift back, and we had a late night chat with Sally and Bill before going to bed.

During our 24 hours or so with Sally and Bill they showed us all round their big, suburban house, which was typical of many Canadian town houses and included a veranda and a large basement. They also took us round Peterboro’, accompanied by their little dog. We saw the famous elevator lock on one of Peterboro’s waterways.

Finally they drove us to Toronto, showed us one of the huge new shopping malls, and then left us at our hotel. We then did a quick city tour of Toronto, which included a ride up the world’s tallest free-standing structure, the CN Tower, with its dizzying view from the top (you looked down and felt the whole thing was going to topple over at the next gust of wind). Here we had our portrait done by computer-photo, then a fairly new phenomenon. We took the portrait home with us and put it up for a time in the Telex room where we both worked. Computer pictures are made up of letters and other characters to form a photograph, and we kidded everyone who asked about it that we had produced the picture on our telex machine. Most of them fell for it, because we often did receive computer-originated graphics over the telex line, especially at Christmas when transmission of images like Santa Claus and his reindeer blocked our lines for ages. We sometimes ran up our own telex bill by recording these images on telex Murray-code tape, and re-transmitting them on to our Australian correspondents as a Christmas greeting.

That evening in Toronto we went to see a new film, ‘The Amityville Horror’. Next morning we were off for Niagara Falls and the U.S. border. All the main attractions were on the Canadian side, where we were staying overnight, and this side also gives the best view of the Falls

We had our photos taken by the very dramatic Horseshoe Falls, then had a ride on the ‘Maid of the Mists’ pleasure boat to near the foot of the Falls. Everyone had to cover up from head to toe in black plastic macintoshes with hoods, so only the face was showing, otherwise our clothes would have been soaked through with the spray from the Falls.

On the way down through New England from Niagara to Washington D.C., we stopped overnight at a place called Scranton, Pennsylvania. In the motel room we found a little envelope with a printed note from our maid, hoping we would enjoy our stay and if we did could we leave a token of our appreciation in the envelope before we left. Now to us this was like a red rag to two raging bulls: it hit two sore points in one go. We hated tipping, and maids were just a bloody nuisance. We didn’t have maids at home in our flat, so why should we be pestered with them on our holidays? We were quite happy to use the same towels all week, pull the bedclothes together and put up with a bit of dust, but they insisted on knocking at our door at some unearthly hour in the morning when we wanted a lie in, even when we managed to find and display a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign sometimes. If it was wet weather, you felt obliged to vacate your room just so the maid could get in and clean it. We never cleaned our flat every day, but when on holiday and you felt like a lie in you couldn’t do it because of these armies of maids who seemed to be employed solely to annoy us. Now this one in Scranton had added insult to injury by not only demanding to be tipped for being a nuisance, but she had actually had the audacity to leave an envelope to put it in.

Well she certainly got a tip, but not the kind she hoped for. As far as I remember the note we left in the envelope for her read something like this: ‘Get back to your Scranton scrag-hole you mercenary maid’. The Scranton alliteration was no doubt lost on our transatlantic pest, since ‘Get back to your scrag-’ole’ was a phrase we had adopted from that marvelous British comedy actress, Patricia Hayes, in the TV play ‘Edna, The Inebriate Woman’. Of course we were off the next morning, but as we sat on the bus we imagined the greedy maid tearing open her envelope for some dollar bills, only to find this insulting note. We felt we had gotten our own back on all those maids intent on spoiling our past and future holidays by insisting on doing their silly job every morning. At the very least maids should not start work till 12 noon to give people a chance for a lie in, but one clean-up before we arrived, and once after we left would have been quite sufficient.

We were now bound for Washington, D.C. by way of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the peace treaty ending the American Civil War (or War between the States/War of Northern Aggression as it is referred to in the South) was signed. I took a photo of General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters which had the rebel Confederate flag flying outside.

We arrived for our two nights in the U.S. capital city in time for a big gay march, which we joined in, going right by the White House. Whilst in Washington we visited the other sights including the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Building. We were taken on a tour and saw the Senate and House of Representatives. We also went across the river to Arlington, Virginia (in fact a suburb of Washington) to see John F. Kennedy’s grave in the huge military cemetery.

Whilst in Washington we had arranged to make our way to nearby Baltimore where my penfriend lived. I had been writing Dee Snoble for 15 years, but we had never met. We were both interested in 1950s rock’n’roll, and she was once a personal friend of our mutual idol, Jerry Lee Lewis who frequently passed through her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. We met up in the bus station, and she looked quite different to how I imagined. We had a lot to catch up on, and she showed us Baltimore Harbor, then took us to her house and introduced us to her pet cockatiel. She was very surprised when it took to George immediately, but then he seemed to have an affinity with all animals.

Dee’s house was rather weird in that owls in all forms, shapes and sizes were very much in evidence. A huge stuffed owl high in one corner dominated the room, and seemed likely to swoop down on us at any minute. Owl pictures and ornaments filled every available space on the walls and shelves in the main room, giving it a very eerie feel.
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I had brought Dee an album of Newcastle-born Jerry Lee-style pianist and singer, Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee as a present. I wore my American Eagle string tie for our first meeting, but regretted having abandoned my usual 1950s hairstyle for this American trip. I was rather relieved to find Dee looked very ordinary too, and certainly did not have a 1950s hairdo herself. The reason I didn’t recognize her when we met was my mental picture of her was composed from caricatures of herself she had drawn in our early correspondence, which used to be very wild, both of us doing drawings so the letters were more like comics. Dee depicted herself as a sort of short Brenda Lee type with a huge beehive hairdo, when I met her I was mildly surprised to find she was of normal height with a contemporary hairstyle, and, like myself, wearing spectacles.

When we met some of Dee’s friends on a subsequent visit it became pretty plain she kept her love of 1950s music and Jerry Lee Lewis very much to herself. I mentioned his name as George and I were eating out at a seafood restaurant with Dee and her friends, and they exclaimed in shocked amazement: ‘Jerry Lee Lewis? You’re not a fan of HIS, are you?’

This was in a tone of voice that implied Dee must be 100 years old, and possibly a little perverted for liking someone with such a colorful personal life. Dee was obviously a little embarrassed for she squirmed and then admitted that she had gotten to know me through the various 1950s rock’n’roll fan club magazines.
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After our visit with Dee on this first of our American trips, we made our way back to Washington, and next day we were returning to New York for the flight home. En route we stopped off in Philadelphia long enough to see the main sights of that city, including the cracked Liberty Bell. This reminded me of a very similar bell I had seen before I met George in the Kremlin. The Russian bell did not just have a crack, but a large triangular-shaped chunk broken off. (George, in his witty way, had later written on the back of a photo of the Statue of Liberty which we took on one of our American trips, the caption: ‘The Liberty Belle’).

We arrived at JFK airport and flew back to London without further incident. This time we had seats together, and could enjoy the movies and other in flight entertainment. This may have been the time ‘The Muppet Movie’ was being shown during the flight, and George kept dozing off. He was seated between me and a woman passenger, and every now and then George kept half waking up, looking bleary eyed at the screen and, seeing the green figure of Kermit, kept exclaiming grumpily: ‘That bloody frog’ before drifting back to sleep again

In December we saw a very funny French/Italian film called ‘La Cage Aux Follies’ featuring two gay men in a lifelong partnership. Of course, this film achieved cult status, spurned many inferior sequels and was eventually made into a musical whose initial success was thwarted by the AIDS crisis, which temporarily made a musical with a homosexual theme very risky box office. Happily there are annual revivals of the musical, which has some excellent songs and a very funny but also moving story line. An American version of the film has since been made, called ‘Birds Of A Feather’, but I don’t think you can beat the French original.
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In the latter half of 1979 I had applied for a telex job at Amnesty International, in response to a newspaper advert. At the interview I explained I wanted to work similar hours to my current job, which was effectively part-time. George and I used to do alternate shifts at an Australian company, one of us doing mornings and one afternoons, and we changed over every week. Amnesty International were looking for a full-time employee, but they agreed on a trial basis to offer both of us the job on a part-time basis. Whoever was on early shift at the Australian company would go over to Amnesty International in the afternoons and do that job also. At Christmas time we were in a quandary as both the Australian firm and Amnesty International had their staff Christmas parties on the same evening. I cannot remember now which one we went to.

As usual when we were in London on New Year’s Eve we had a party at our flat to finish the year off and see in the new one. In mid January 1980 George decided to leave the Australian firm we both worked for in order to take up a full-time post with Amnesty International. Two things had prompted this rather sudden move.

The Australian firm wanted to change some procedures, and George was not happy with this and gave in his notice almost on the spur of the moment. At the same time Amnesty international had decided they really did need someone to cover the mornings and were therefore going to advertise the telex position as a full-time one. George decided to take the Amnesty job.

Although it eventually turned sour on him, his time at AI was a rewarding and self-developing experience. He lost his paranoia about anything vaguely left-wing, and thoroughly enjoyed mixing with people who shared his tastes in theater and the arts. It was in the Telex Room at Amnesty international that he first created his famous collages, one of which was later to be featured on TV.Â

A very sad event occurred on January 20th when George’s much loved Aunty Rose died, She was almost like a mother to him, since he had gone to live with her after both his parents had died. George went up to Glasgow on his own for the funeral.

On March 22nd we had a day trip to Chester, which we instantly fell in love with. Its Tudor-style streets with their unique two-level shopping arcades, all dominated by a pedestrian bridge with a famous clock, gave the city a special appeal. The bridge actually forms part of a walk which takes you all round the old city wall, from which you can view some Roman remains at one point. We visited the city on at least one other occasion, and even bought a picture-clock which represented the one in the middle of Chester. It still hangs in my hallway, but unfortunately I have never been able to get it to keep to the correct time, so have now removed the batteries.

In late June we were off again to the States. George has written in his diary the date we flew off: ‘USA. Heathrow-New York. Chapter Two.’ This was the big one – we visited New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Hawaii and San Francisco in a 19 day holiday we would always remember.

We left home on a Sunday and spent the first three nights in New York. Our three visits in as many years to The Big Apple now merge into one in my memory, but on this occasion photos prove we re-visited some of the main sights and some new ones to us, such as Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park. We spent some time walking around Greenwich Village and the Gay Street area. This may have been the visit where we narrowly missed being killed or seriously injured by a window-cleaners’ heavy wooden platform which came crashing down several stories on to the sidewalk, just missing both of us, in the SoHo district as we were walking either to or from the Village.

We re-visited Washington Square, and also made a trip by subway to Coney Island, where we spent some time on the beach and I swam in the Atlantic. A week later I was swimming in the Pacific in Hawaii, where the water was far warmer. Whilst in New York we also saw the film ‘The Shining’.

On the Thursday we flew to Las Vegas via Los Angeles. We somehow lost our courier at L.A. airport and instead of going through the transfer lounge ended up outside the airport terminal in front of the famous Air Travel sculpture. After a few minutes of panic, we found our way to the connecting Las Vegas flight.

The temperature in this gambling city in the middle of the Nevada desert was about 110 degrees, and even at night it was so warm you felt like jumping in the hotel swimming pool to cool off. We were not in the least interested in gambling, and would not have spent two nights in Las Vegas had it not been included in the package. However, we did enjoy the dazzling lights and the excellent, inexpensive self-service restaurants in the casinos where you could pile up your plates with as much as you could eat very cheaply. Obviously the intention was that you should spend your money gambling, but we did not put so much as one cent in the machines between us during our visit, not least because neither of us understood how modern slot machines work, and I still don’t. Anything more complicated than the old-fashioned one-armed bandit where you pull the lever and hope for three cherries or three bars completely foxes me.

Our hotel was some way out, at the end of ‘The Strip’ and down a side street. I remember shopping in a supermarket on the way and discovering a huge can of V8 vegetable juice on sale which I loved. In America it is widely advertised and very cheap, but in the UK it was only available in small cans, is quite expensive, and not nearly so well known. I drank the whole giant can in the heat of this neon oasis in the desert.

Whilst in Las Vegas we went on a sightseeing trip, during which Liberace’s home, among others, was pointed out to us. We also had the opportunity of a flight over the Grand Canyon, and much to my regret we missed out on this, feeling it was just too expensive.

Next stop on our itinerary was Los Angeles, where we were staying in a downtown hotel for three nights. L.A. has been described as seventytwo suburbs in search of a city, so there is no real central or downtown area, and where we were staying was a main street near the old City Hall skyscraper (famous from the old 1950s Superman TV series). This street was lined on either side with cinemas, built in the heyday of Hollywood for showing the latest releases. We discovered that not one of them were showing any films in English, and the whole downtown area was entirely Spanish speaking. All the shops sold Hispanic food, and all shop signs, notices, etc. were in Spanish, which was the only language we heard spoken in that area. We had been considering a one day trip over the border to Tijuana in Mexico, but since we seemed to be in Mexico already as soon as we stepped outside our hotel, there did not seem any point, so we gave that trip a miss.

Unlike New York, which has an excellent subway system, we never did get the hang of Los Angeles’ rather poor public transport system. There were buses, but it was difficult to discover how to get anywhere specific. However, during our visit we saw the famous Hollywood sign in white letters on a hillside, we visited Universal Studios (which is much more of a theme park than a genuine film studio). We saw the Chinese Theater and the stars’ autographs, hand and footprints in the sidewalk and, of course, the highlight of possibly the whole trip, we visited Disneyland, spending all day and staying to see the illuminated parade after dark. We loved the rides, and found it totally unlike any other amusement or theme park we had visited. We even walked through a replica of the French Quarter in New Orleans, which gave us a foretaste of our visit there a few years later.

Next day, Tuesday, we flew the farthest west we were ever to travel together, to Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands. We were now 11 hours behind British Summer Time, and quite near the International Dateline. As we approached Honolulu airport at night it was like a fairytale land below, full of mysterious twinkling lights. As we stepped off the plane garlands of flowers were placed around our neck, a traditional Hawaiian greeting for all visitors. George and I had our photos taken (separately) with an exotic Hawaiian girl with a flower in her hair. An exotic Hawaiian boy would have been more to our taste, but he was reserved for the photos with the female arrivals (perhaps we should have dressed in drag).

We were staying in Waikiki, the main resort area of Honolulu. It was a high rise area very reminiscent of the Spanish Costas, except this was more exotic with taller palm trees, and everybody in colorful Hawaiian shirts and dresses.

We fell in love with Hawaii, which felt much more like being in Polynesia than in the United States (in fact it is in both). There was a group of musicians we saw several times playing in the street near our hotel, consisting of two male guitarists, and a well-built female singer in a colorful, Hawaiian ankle-length costume and a big flower in her hair, who played a mandolin-type instrument as she sang. There was also a younger woman, similarly attired (possibly her daughter) who sometimes danced, Hawaiian style, to the music. We loved this group, and would stop and listen whenever we passed. The music was typically Hawaiian, but the only individual number I can remember was ‘Blue Hawaii’ made famous by Elvis Presley.

The weather in Hawaii was warm, but surprisingly cloudy. It is in a latitude where the temperature stays warm throughout the year and there are no real seasons, but they do get quite a lot of rain. However, the sea and air temperature are so warm you can swim in the sea when it is raining. We did have quite a bit of sun each day, and one day when there was no cloud at all we stayed on the beach and got terribly sunburnt, not realizing the power of the sun this near the Equator. We were both in agony for days afterwards.
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We visited the zoo (we had also visited the Bronx zoo in New York on one of our trips), also Pearl Harbor and downtown Honolulu, where we discovered frozen yoghurt for the first time. It was delicious. We had the misfortune of being in Waikiki on July 4th, American Independence Day, which is the day they light fireworks. Whether it is true of all American high rise cities I could not say, but certainly Waikiki was no place to be out on the streets on July 4th, because crazy people threw enormous firecrackers down from the skyscrapers, especially after dark. Our hotel restaurant was across the street, and we were literally too scared to go out and eat. In the end we made a mad dash, firecrackers raining down all around us, ate our meal and dashed back across the road to the safety of our hotel, not daring to venture further afield that evening.

We did not take the opportunity to see more of the island whilst in Honolulu, which perhaps we should have done, nor did we visit any of the other islands. We were quite happy drinking in the atmosphere of Honolulu/Waikiki and enjoying the beach and the rest between our city sightseeing on the mainland. We had five full days in Hawaii, and spent quite a lot of time on the beach. George probably did this for my sake as much as anything, but he really preferred exploring cities to outlying nature reserves and tourist-orientated ‘culture centers’, so we skipped the coach trip round the island. We saw genuine Hawaiian culture in the streets and parks of Waikiki in the form of Hula dancers and Hawaiian music and singing, and did not feel the need to travel to a special show for tourists, though I do now regret not seeing more of the island.

There was one unpleasant incident I remember, which was entirely my fault. I was aware of a military base in Waikiki, and like many gay men I have always been attracted to uniforms. American uniforms held a special attraction for me, and one day we were walking along the main street in Waikiki and George caught me looking at someone (I believe he was in uniform, but certainly he was not a Polynesian native of Hawaii). George accused me of wishing I had been on my own, since the look in my eyes said I felt if George was not there I might score. He felt, at that moment, that he was in the way. I have always remembered this incident, and it hurt at the time and hurts even more now, because George exactly read my thoughts at that precise moment. Naturally, I felt guilty about it then, and even more so now that George is dead. It is not that I ever really wanted him out of the way, but there are times we all feel our style is being cramped, and George caught me at one moment when I would have liked to have been free to do some cruising to investigate the possibilities of meeting an American Serviceman in uniform.

It was not as if we were in a completely monogamous relationship, since we both used to see other people sexually, and indeed we did the gay backroom clubs in both New York and San Francisco on this trip, but George had to have a supply of amphetamines in order to get in the mood or even think about anything sexual, so if I was feeling in the mood and he had no supply of ‘sweeties’, as he called them, we were in deep trouble. I had to curb my impulses, or it would ruin our holiday.
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I could easily have waited till we got to San Francisco and George had either obtained a fresh supply of sweeties, or used the ones he was saving up for our visit to that city. However, I knew it was only in Waikiki I stood any real chance, however remote, of meeting a military guy in uniform because of the proximity of the military base to a nearby cottage (public toilet) with a glory-hole which held distinct possibilities. This sense of frustration on my part caused tension between us, because George was very sensitive to moods, and could often read me like a book. However, I curbed my impulses as much as I could. Quite likely nothing would have happened had I felt free to cruise, since Waikiki is hardly a gay paradise as far as I know.

Whilst in Waikiki we went to see a rather strange film called ‘The Island’. We also bought the obligatory Hawaiian shirts. Mine was bright green and George’s blue, both covered in exotic colored flowers, and we wore these almost constantly whilst on the island. They were particularly useful in view of our sunburn, as they were very loose fitting.

On the Sunday, our sunburn thankfully wearing off, we flew back east to San Francisco for our final four nights. George immediately fell in love with the city, because if its friendly atmosphere and almost European architecture. Then there were the hills and cable cars, which made this a unique American city. I also liked it, but still preferred New York.

We saw all the sights including the Golden Gate Bridge, the pyramid skyscraper built to withstand earthquakes, Fisherman’s Wharf and we also had a distant view of the prison island of Alcatraz. We had a ride on a cable car on at least one occasion.

We visited the gay bars and backrooms, and who knows whether George got his fatal infection here, in New York, or possibly back home in London? Certainly HIV was prevalent in San Francisco and New York in 1980 when we were there, whilst it was virtually unknown in London back then.

We walked into one bar, where gay pornographic videos were being shown on a screen above the bar. There was nothing outside to warn the general public, and we were rather shocked as anyone could have walked in off the street just for a drink – possibly a man and his wife, or even a woman on her own. Two guys were watching the screen fascinated, and one of them said to us: ‘This wouldn’t be allowed back home in Texas’.

We explained it would not be allowed back home in England either, though we were going through a liberal patch in London which lasted about three years during which such films were shown at certain seedy establishments in and around Soho, but the clampdown came very soon. Here in San Francisco such things were accepted as a matter of course, and at one gay backroom cinema club, called ‘The Nob Hill Cine-club’, we were handed a membership card on the back of which was printed a list of statements which would cause any British lawmaker or police officer to have an apoplexy. I reproduce it in full below:

‘- The bearer is admitted to the membership of the Nob Hill Cine-Club.

– The Nob Hill Cine-Club is a members only social and artistic facility dedicated to cinema and conviviality. Members are entitled to use and enjoy all of our facilities.

– We believe in a atmosphere of freedom for consenting adults.

– If you are harassed or restricted by any unwelcome police agents or entrappers, please notify the management and we will provide legal representation to you at our expense.’
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In London in the early 1990s gay clubs were still employing straight security men to throw people out on the street for such activities, in San Francisco over a decade earlier the club paid your legal expenses if the police dared interfere with your rights as a consenting gay adult. Now the San Francisco attitude is prevalent throughout Europe, Australia and the main cities of North America (although AIDS has caused some restrictions in the latter), and finally UK caught up in the first years of the 21st Century, mainly due to having to comply with EU regulations on non-discrimination. This also meant an equal age of consent and civil partnerships, which are universally referred to as ‘marriages’.

In San Francisco everyone seemed friendly, and the city had an almost carnival atmosphere. The main streets were full of open-air theater, with crowds gathering around to watch all sorts of entertainers performing.

We visited the Amnesty International office in a Victorian-style house, which was quite a contrast to the AI office in New York which we had also visited. The night before leaving San Francisco we went to a very ornate cinema, The Alhambra, to see ‘Hangar 18′. The exterior of the cinema was built like a mosque, complete with two minarets.

On the Thursday morning we began our long flight back home, changing planes at New York’s JFK airport. I was frantically hoping our London-bound flight would not be called until I had seen my favorite singer, Jerry Lee Lewis, perform on ‘The Eddie Rabbitt’ show in the coin-in-the-slot TVs in the terminal building. Just as the program was about to start our flight was called. It was then delayed for about an hour, and I sat fuming with frustration in the plane whilst my idol played one of his best-ever versions of ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ just minutes after I had technically left American soil, although we were still on the tarmac. It is the only time he has been on TV whilst I have been in the States, and I missed him by minutes. I later obtained the show on video, so I now know I had every right to feel frustrated to miss such a show whilst trapped on a plane a few yards from the terminal television screens.

We arrived back at Heathrow, considerably jet-lagged after the very long flight and 8 hour time difference since we left San Francisco. It had been a wonderful trip, and one we would always remember.

On September 10th it was our tenth anniversary of meeting. I wanted to give George something special, and racked my brains. In the end I decided on an engraved glass of some kind, with our two names and the figure ‘10′. When you are not looking for something out of the ordinary like this, you see such things everywhere, but when you really want something you never find it easily. I looked in Yellow Pages and only a few places were listed. Foolishly, I chose one in Belgravia which charged sky-high prices, but I was so determined to get this special token of our ten years together I ordered it anyway. I could only afford to have our two initials and a figure 10 engraved on a plain brandy glass. I think it cost £15 back in 1980, which was way, way above the going rate for such things. Later, after I had given George the present, I found out where I could get much more elaborate engraved glass for just a few pounds.

The reaction, when I gave the present to George, was not what I had expected. He soon got out of me how much it cost, and he was absolutely furious that I had been silly enough to be ripped off in this way. He was not a great one for present-giving, and the glass was hardly very decorative. Still, he was a bit more appreciative later, but we both felt bad that I had paid at least three times its real value.

On November 22nd George has written in his diary: ‘Mae West died’. She was, of course, a gay icon, and we loved all her films, tatty as they were. We also loved her recordings, but her last film, ‘Sextette’, was never released in the UK during George’s lifetime, so he never saw it. It appeared on TV after he died, and I recorded it and will always keep it as I think it is the best film she ever made, despite it being panned by the critics. The very fact she could make a film at all at around her mid-80s is a miracle, and that she could still manage to look glamorous and to deliver all her old one-liners plus a few new ones without sounding ridiculous, testifies to her legendary status as a unique star without equal. It was a sad day for both of us when she finally did die, and took all her secrets to the grave with her. Some people suspected she was really a man in drag, or possibly a transsexual. She was certainly a revolutionary in promoting sexual liberation decades before the Swinging 60s, and she did it with a wry sense of humor and an ability to laugh at herself which modern day liberationists and her critics do not seem to appreciate.

Those who panned ‘Sextette’ for being tatty, and ridiculous in casting an 85 year old woman as a nymphomaniac whom young men are falling over themselves to go to bed with, miss the entire point: Mae West always did everything tongue-in-cheek and over the top. She never made a film till she was fat and forty, so making her last one at around 85 was just a new twist to an old joke. If she really was pushed along on castors and had the lines fed to her through earphones beneath her blond wig, it certainly does not come across that way in the finished film. She performs her swaying, mincing walk and delivers her lines as convincingly as ever. I can only surmise a jealous younger generation spread these foul rumors because they knew they did not have half the talent at 20 or 30 which Mae had at 85 or so, and which enabled her to steal the show and put all the younger actors in the film in the shade.

George’s diary for 1981 starts off in early January with a few days he spent in Rome with a friend of ours called Eric. As we had visited Rome several times, I  did not feel like going again at that time so stayed at home.

George and Eric (who was not gay) stayed in a little hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps. There was some delay with the flight back, and they had to stay an extra night in the hotel at the tour company’s expense. George phoned me to let me know he would be a day late. They had a good time, visiting St Peter’s and other sights, but George told me one amusing story which shows he got exasperated with Eric at times. George had gone into a shop, and left our friend standing outside. When George came out, Eric said to him: ‘George, do I look Italian?’

George asked what prompted the question and Eric explained with a perplexed tone: ‘Well, this woman came up to me and started talking to me in Italian’.

George pointed out that they were, after all, in Italy, so what language did Eric expect Romans to speak – Chinese? Our friend still seemed puzzled, as though British tourists had ‘I only speak English’ tattooed on their foreheads or something.

The last weekend of February George and I spent in Amsterdam together. It was very cold – there was snow on the pavements, and in Volendam the canal was frozen over leaving ducks waddling on the ice. We went to see the picturesque village, but of course the coach trip included the obligatory cheese and clog factories.

Later that Spring we attended ‘An Evening With Quentin Crisp’ at the Mayfair Theater off Piccadilly. Of course, George knew Quentin personally from the days before he became famous (when he was infamous in fact). The first half of Quentin’s show consisted of a monolog on ‘style’, and in the second half he answered questions from the audience which they wrote out on cards during the interval. I put in a question based on something my favorite singer, Jerry Lee Lewis, frequently ad-libbed at the end of one of his songs:  ‘A famous singer has said he does not want a headstone on his grave, he wants a monument. Would you say he has style?’

Quentin replied to the effect that it did not matter what happened once you were dead, the point was to have style whilst you were alive. One of my favorite Crispisms is his advice about never trying ‘to keep up with the Joneses – drag them down to your level. It’s cheaper.’

Apparently Crisp has since his death frequently materialized at séances conducted by Australian physical medium, David Thompson, and still very much has style, being as camp as he ever was in life. I’ve heard the recordings on the Internet, so Quentin has evidently revised his answer to me and decided it does matter to have style after you die as well, very much so. How else would people recognize him?

At the end of May we spent a Bank Holiday weekend in Paris, but it merges into so many other visits to that city I cannot now recall anything specific. However my Super-8 film clips show that my mother came with us and of course we took her to the top of the Eiffel Tower and showed her Montmartre, Notre Dame and all the other tourist sights.

In June we flew off for a one week trip to New York, our last ever visit to that city together. The day after we arrived there was a huge gay march from Greenwich Village to Central park. It was so inspiring to see, and participate in, with marching bands, people in fancy dress (including someone in drag wearing a Richard Nixon mask), and a large contingent of parents of lesbians and gay men. One woman held up a sign saying: ‘My gay son is the greatest’, and an old lady on Fifth Avenue stood on the sidewalk with a homemade cardboard placard reading: ‘Grandma for gays’. People all along Fifth Avenue gave us a traditional New York tickertape welcome by throwing scraps of paper out of their high rise windows, and the balconies were crowded all along the route as people waved and cheered. New York really is the friendliest city on Earth, despite what people say.

As we were walking along Fifth Avenue on the march, someone must have heard our accents and mistook George for one of the Bloolips, the British drag cabaret troupe which was currently visiting New York. ‘I saw you in Bloolips yesterday’ he said excitedly, possibly hoping for an autograph, but George had to deny it, explaining we had only arrived last night on the plane from England. We were lucky in joining two gay marches on our visits to the States, as we had previously joined the one in Washington D.C., which was also very impressive.

On the Monday we visited Coney Island again. We saw a film whilst in New York, ‘The History of the World Part 1′, and we went to a show at the fantastic art deco Radio City Music Hall. On the Friday we visited my penfriend Dee in Baltimore. The bus back arrived in Manhattan at about 3 a.m. in the morning, and we were a bit nervous about walking to our hotel at such a time, because of the city’s violent reputation. We need not have worried. As we walked the few blocks from the bus station in Eighth Avenue to our hotel just off Times Square, we were amazed to see all sorts of people strolling about, including old grannies doing their shopping, as nearly all the stores in this street stayed open all night long.

Whilst in New York we went on a helicopter trip, which was a rather scary yet exhilarating experience, looking down on the skyscrapers and knowing if the engine stopped you would be plunged into the canyon-like streets far below. George scolded me for giving him the Super-8 camera to operate (since he was by the window) as it spoilt the flight for him when I kept telling him where to point it. The 15-minute trip was soon over, but well worth the £15 or so it cost us.
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We flew back on Independence Day, July 4th. We had decided we did not want to risk being pelted with firecrackers from the Manhattan skyscrapers, after our experience the year before in Waikiki. We felt safer watching ‘The Clash of the Titans’ on the plane home.

Later that week we saw a fabulous production called ‘One Mo’ Time’ at the Cambridge Theater. It had a mainly black cast and was based on New Orleans Jazz and Blues. It had excellent music and songs, including one sung by a big black woman which went: ‘You’ve got the right key baby but the wrong keyhole’, and the climax of the show was when the cast, led by a jazz band, came into the audience, up the aisles and invited us all to form a Conga line. We danced around the auditorium, then right out into the street, around Seven Dials and back into the theater again. It was really fantastic, like being in New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

In early September we flew to Copenhagen with our friend Eric, we then traveled the next day by coach to Gothenburg for one night. Then on to Oslo for two nights, which included our 11th anniversary of meeting. Finally we visited Stockholm for two nights, before returning to Copenhagen. In just one week we had seen the capitals of three Scandinavian countries, and although Eric missed the Norwegian fjords, which he had seen on a previous trip, we were quite pleased with this whirlwind tour which gave us a flavor of Scandinavia.

We loved the rural scenery, the fantastic statues of Oslo, the buildings of Stockholm including the Town hall with its huge main chamber, the walls of which were stunningly decorated in gold leaf. We also went on a river trip in Stockholm, though Eric did not come with us on this. We enjoyed our final two days in Copenhagen, with its fantastic collection of spires, one of which we climbed up. It was a church with a gold spiral staircase on the outside of the green spire. Eric was too scared, but George and I climbed right to the tip where the staircase dwindled to nothing beneath the golden ball at the top of the spire. There was another spire in the city shaped like entwined serpents with clawed feet, and of course we also saw the famous little mermaid statue on the rock.

I got a real taste for caviar in Scandinavia, as some of the hotels had little packets of red caviar paste on the breakfast table along with the butter and marmalade. I always chose the caviar, and brought home a pocketful of these little packs which I ate up within a week, after giving a few to friends to try.

About the turn of the year George began the first of his long-term bouts of unemployment since we had met. He had worked full-time at Amnesty International since 1980, and after two years had now left because he was fed up with what he and others saw as the waste of money and bad management.  When he was on holiday, for instance, £500 was spent on one telegram rather than train someone to send telexes. He asked for meetings with his boss to sort out such problems, but his requests were ignored.

One of the final straws seems petty, but it was typical of the attitude he felt prevailed: his script for the Christmas pantomime was rejected in favor of an inferior one submitted by a new employee considered more important than a mere telex operator. Only months before George had written a brilliant script on the occasion of the departure of Martin Ennals as Secretary General, and the sketch about two cleaners discovering secrets in the old Secretary General’s office was a great success when performed by two staff members. Unfortunately we were in America at the time and missed the only public performance of a script written by George, and we had to be content with hearing an audio recording. Despite this recent success, and a very topical script about the International Secretariat’s forthcoming move to new premises, his script was rejected. George had been to the trade union representative about his work related problems, and incredibly the shop steward told him to resign from the job and ‘we’ll take it from there’. So George finally took this not very helpful advice in desperation.

Soon afterwards in February 1982, when the British Section announced the nomination of Jeremy Thorpe as their next Director, George wrote a letter to ‘The Guardian’ protesting. Jeremy Thorpe had recently been involved in a controversial court case also involving Norman Scott, and the judge’s summing up had received much criticism from the satirical Left, including a brilliant sketch by Peter Cook in ‘The Secret Policeman’s Ball’ which, ironically, was a fundraising event for the British Section of A.I.. Although Jeremy Thorpe won the case, many people felt he was inappropriate to be spokesperson for the UK Section, and George wrote along these lines, taking the opportunity to point out some of the deficiencies of the International Secretariat of A.I. which had led to his resignation. Years later this letter was still on file at the I.S. and George was blacklisted till the day he died, not even allowed to work at A.I. as a volunteer. His only crime was trying to save the organization money by criticizing what he saw as its financial mismanagement, but he suffered the fate of most whistle blowers. I repeat below in full his letter to ‘The Guardian’:

‘Sir,

‘Having recently reluctantly resigned from the International Secretariat of Amnesty, due to disillusion and despair about its management and administration, I can affirm that its appointment of Jeremy Thorpe as Director of its British Section only accentuates the already existent problems within the organisation. There was a mass exodus of long-term staff towards the end of 1981, due to disputes, frustrations and fears, not to mention growing discontent between national sections and the International Secretariat.

‘My personal grievance was with the increasingly unnecessary expenditure in certain areas, which as a fundraiser I found appalling, and said so openly, but to no avail.
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‘The staff of Amnesty international consist of two distinct classes: those who are genuinely and primarily dedicated to human rights and those who are primarily dedicated to careerism, opportunism and the ‘‘perks’‘ of the post. The appointment of Jeremy Thorpe exemplifies the absurdity of the movement’s administration. The ever-expanding offices are crying out for more professional administrators.

‘I have hitherto refrained from publicly voicing my criticisms, because I feared that any adverse publicity might be detrimental to the movement. Now that the Jeremy Thorpe affair has made criticism and condemnation inevitable, I need no longer have any reservations on this matter.

‘On the contrary, Amnesty’s aim is to write about the wrongs of human rights in the hope of rectifying them. Unless its membership is made aware of, and solves, the administration problems, the respect and recognition which has been built up over the years will be replaced by cynicism and scepticism.

Yours sincerely,’

Amnesty International wrote a reply to this letter, also published in ‘The Guardian’, which seemed to confirm the elitism and careerism George criticized by unnecessarily drawing attention to the fact that George was their former telex operator. The clear implication was that his letter and views could therefore be disregarded as that of a mere low-grade menial. However, perhaps his letter did influence someone in high places – certainly amid all the controversy Jeremy Thorpe withdrew and never took up the nomination as Director of the British Section.

George signed on at the unemployment office which featured prominently in the last ten years of his life. He only had two bouts of permanent paid employment after leaving Amnesty International, amounting to about three years in total.

The day before my birthday, March 19th, we flew off to Athens accompanied by Eric. It was a pretty disastrous holiday, with a lot of rain.

Athens is fine for a day trip, but not much fun for a week. After you have seen the Acropolis there’s nothing else to see or do really. We had a one day cruise round the nearer islands of Aegina, Poros and Hydra in the rain, saw a couple of films ‘Evil Under the Sun’ and ‘Absence of Malice’, and paid a visit to the ruins of Delphi.

Eric seemed to be constantly ringing his mother back home, and was being chased on holiday by a middle aged woman (he has that little boy lost look which makes older women want to mother him). It was, in fact, the last time George saw Eric, for he broke contact with us afterwards. We thought it was over some critical remark George had made about Eric keep ringing his mother which we thought he’d overheard, but Eric confided with me years later, when he got in touch again after George’s death, that he was upset because George had added Eric’s name to a postcard he sent to his ex-girlfriend Marlene from Greece. Apparently Eric was trying to cut contacts with Marlene at the time.

Many photos of this holiday are overcast, but we did have a few spells of sunshine. We found Athens a city of smog and pollution, unappetizing food and wideboys. We walked down a main street and noticed a grubby looking snack bar with a plate of what we took for imitation fried food in the window (a fried egg and some bacon, etc.). We rejected this place, and came to a street lined with restaurants and waiters trying to entice you in – thrusting the menu into your hands on the street and trying to push you into their establishment. Their rivals meanwhile tried to entice, pull or shove you in the opposite direction. Hating all this, we went back to the greasy spoon in desperation, but when they tried to serve us up the plate with the congealed, rubbery fried egg in the window which we had seen about an hour before, we walked out of the shop in disgust.

In the street a friendly man, as gullible Eric and myself thought, said he knew a nice cafeteria which was cheap, and started leading us to one of the main squares. George shouted at us not to follow as it was a trap, but Eric and I were already stepping out lured by the promise of cheap wholesome grub. George could do nothing but follow, and the man led us eventually down some dimly lit sleazy dive with no food in sight and a couple of hookers sitting on stools by a bar. We made our quick exit, and Eric exclaimed in innocent bewilderment:

‘It wasn’t a cafeteria. There was no food there,  just a couple of girls sitting at a bar.’

‘Of course not, he was leading you into a clip joint’, said George exasperatedly, ‘and you two followed like two sheep.’ Of course George, being streetwise, had spotted the tout for what he was a mile off. After a rather miserable week we returned home to London.

On April 23rd we went on a march against the Malvinas/Falklands war, now raging in the South Atlantic. We were both strongly against the war, and wholly in sympathy with the Argentineans. We had no time whatsoever for the British settlers who would not even allow Argentineans to live on the islands which Britain had previously stolen from them. It was as if Argentina had kicked all the British out of the Isle of Wight and claimed it for her own.

I have a very fond memory of George when he and I visited a church in the City of London where Defense Minister John Nott was speaking to the lunchtime City crowd. We mingled with the congregation, and as he started to leave the pulpit we shouted ‘murderer’ and held up home-made paper placards we had hidden under our coats. This was at the height of the Malvinas/Falklands conflict and after the sinking of the Belgrano. George’s placard read: ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’, and John Nott remarked as he passed: ‘There’s a difference between killing and murder, dear boy.’ Since the Bible quotation indicated all killing was prohibited, this distinction seemed doubtful and irrelevant.

I was very proud of George on this occasion, and it showed how close we had grown politically. It was a very brave thing to do, and we gave each other mutual moral support for this lone protest. George was also once arrested with me on a civil disobedience demo outside Upper Heyford Air Force base in Oxfordshire protesting against nuclear bombers.

In  June we paid a visit to Glasgow, then went to stay in George’s sister’s caravan in Kinghorn, across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh, which we also visited. We had a day in Dundee but were not very impressed. This was the home not only of the cake, but of D. C. Thompson, publishers of cartoon characters in the ‘Beano’, ‘Dandy’ and the Scottish paper ‘the Sunday Post’. George especially loved ‘The Broons’ from the latter, fondly remembered from his childhood days.

In September we paid a visit to Bath in Somerset and saw the famous spa, the bridge with shops on it and the classical crescent which impressed us by its sheer size (I had to take two photos to fit it all in).
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During October we spent a weekend in Paris and re-visited our favorite haunts, and we ended the year with our traditional New Year’s Eve party.

The year 1983 began with a sad occasion. Freda had been discovered dead in his council flat near Waterloo station. His dog, Sandy, was okay, though Freda had been dead several days when they found him. This was always his greatest fear, that he would die in the flat and by the time they found him Sandy would have also died from thirst and hunger. If Freda ever felt ill he used to open his front door, but the heart attack which killed him must have come too suddenly.

We would miss him at the Porchester Hall drag balls, where he won most of the prizes, and at our parties where he did a regular cabaret act. We would also miss his occasional cabaret spots at the Cricketers Pub next door to our tower block.

We went to the funeral, at a crematorium in Tooting where George and several other friends and neighbors from South London were eventually taken. We met up with Freda’s family at the funeral directors near Vauxhall, and were rather bowled over to discover he had two absolutely stunning relatives, presumably nephews, tall, blond and extremely good-looking. Freda was surrounded by handsome men most of his life, and even at  his funeral. We traveled in one of the cars and said our final farewell to Freda.

In February we paid the first of several visits to the BBC’s ‘Question Time’ as part of the live audience. This first show was at a studio behind London Bridge station. We especially appreciated the sandwiches and alcoholic refreshment they provided, but at later recordings they had dispensed with the alcohol and it was soft drinks only. Apparently some of the audience had become rather too inebriated before the program went on the air.

The next day we were off on the big one, a two week holiday to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. It was to be the last time we visited the USA together. It was a deal we had arranged independently through a little travel agents in Vauxhall Underground station booking hall which specialized in destinations like the States and Australia, and they had arranged a very good hotel (La Salle) right on the edge of the French Quarter overlooking Canal Street where all the big Mardi Gras parades took place, so we had a bird’s eye view. I had also arranged some hotels and trips in Memphis, Nashville and Natchez for myself, as I wanted to see places associated with my idol Jerry Lee Lewis, Rock’n’Roll and Country music. George was to stay in New Orleans, as he did not fancy being dragged around these musical shrines.     Â

There was snow on the ground when we left Gatwick, but when we arrived at New Orleans, after a change of planes at the impressive Atlanta airport, it was clear blue skies and sunshine.

Our hotel room overlooked Canal Street, and below was a theater where Lena Horne was appearing. George rang our friend Andre from the hotel bedroom, and Andre could hear all the sounds of New Orleans over the phone. Parades passed by our window almost every day up until Mardi Gras on the Tuesday. Of course, we went down in the street and joined in the fun, trying to catch the ‘favors’ thrown from the floats. These were colored plastic bead necklaces, coins, cups, etc., and we brought back a whole bagful. The thing to do was to shout: ‘Throw me something, mister’ as the floats went by, and then leap up and try and catch as many favors as you could before someone else got them. It was all great fun, and we had the time of our lives, getting into the spirit of things by buying Mardi Gras hats. George’s was a bowler covered in gold glitter, and I had a mauve and yellow Austrian Tyrol style hat with colored feathers in it. George also wore his Hawaiian shirt, and a gold eye mask. Everyone was dressed up in outrageous style.

The floats and parades were very ornate, and once you’ve seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans you are spoiled for any other parades. This is the big one, and it goes on for days, culminating in Mardi Gras itself on Shrove Tuesday.

The day before, St Valentine’s Day as it happened, we went on a Mississippi River cruise on the paddle-steamer ‘Natchez’. It all sounds very romantic, but in actual fact the section of the Mississippi we saw resembled the Manchester Ship Canal. Instead of cotton fields, bayous and alligators all we saw were industrial warehouses and cranes on either side. Still, it was an experience, and whilst on the boat a plane flew over the city and wrote ‘Welcome’ in a vapor trail in the clear blue sky.

A middle-aged couple overheard George’s accent, and told him they did so admire The Queen and the Royal Family. If they thought they were speaking to one of her loyal subjects, they got a rude shock when George snapped back: ‘You don’t have to pay for them.’ George and I were both ardent republicans, and had no time at all for the Royal Family.

We enjoyed New Orleans very much, especially the French Quarter. We sometimes used to have our breakfast in Woolworths, where a big black woman behind the counter asked us: ‘Y’all want grits?’

We had heard of grits, but after trying it once decided it wasn’t for us. We also frequented a diner just across the road where we got a great bacon and egg breakfast for about a dollar. We found a self-service restaurant the other side of Canal Street from our hotel, where we ate our main meals. We tried gumbo, the traditional soup of Louisiana, and became hooked on it.

Our hotel was on a corner of Canal Street near the Bolivar statue, and just around the corner was Louis Armstrong Park, which we also visited.

There were one or two unhappy moments. One night we were in the French Quarter, George wearing his gold glitter bowler which he had just bought, and we ended up in a gay bar. Anything goes in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, so it was pretty wild. We went out on to the typical first floor New Orleans wrought-iron balcony, and George struck up an acquaintance with a guy from Chicago who was hooked on John Cleese in ‘Fawlty Towers’ and had all the videos. We then went inside the room above the main bar, where everything was happening. We joined in, but something George saw in there upset him, not so much what I had done, but another person was performing a big exhibitionist number which George felt was humiliating me and a lot of other people around me.

George was a bit quiet when we came out, but pointed out something in a bar as we walked down the street. I looked in the door, and became enthralled with two male go-go dancers on a small stage, or the bar-top, I’m not sure which. George looked in, and that was it. He stormed off, very upset, with me following him. He said all I was interested in was sex, sex, sex, and that I was ruining his holiday. I protested that he had wanted to go to the gay bar as much as me, and he had pointed out the go-go dancers. He replied he had been pointing out something else entirely (I forget what now), and had not even seen the dancers.

He sat down in a side street in tears, and I put my arm around him and tried to console him. Eventually he seemed to recover, and admitted to me it was the incident in the gay bar we’d visited which had really upset him. Of course the real reason for George’s outburst was that the effect of the amphetamines were wearing off and he couldn’t handle anything sexual once this happened. It made our relationship so very difficult, this having to time anything to do with sex with whenever he was high on speed.
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There was one other unhappy incident, shortly before we returned to London. We had gone to Lake Ponchartrain in the suburbs of New Orleans, and on the way back we walked through a park. Suddenly we came to a busy freeway, and it was a tiresome diversion to a pedestrian tunnel to cross it. The fence was broken, and obviously many people had crossed by that route. So I foolishly suggested we cross there, but we got to the central reservation and were stranded for quite some time as traffic sped by at alarmingly high speeds. It was quite frightening, because of the sheer speed of the vehicles. Finally there was a gap and we just tore across as fast as we could, praying we didn’t trip and fall. It was like haring across the M1, and George said it was one of the worst moments of his life, and had ruined a good day out.

There were other minor mishaps. We went to a film in one of the shopping malls across the River in the Algiers district. There were few cinemas in the center of New Orleans, and you had to travel to the suburbs to see recent releases. We went by bus, but when we came out at about 6pm we were amazed to discover the buses had finished for the day. New Orleans is not like New York City, where public transport runs all night. I started shouting and raving at the cinema staff, complaining I’d never been in such a crazy city where public transport finished in the late afternoon and how did they expect us to get back to our hotel after the film had finished? George said I was showing myself up and becoming embarrassing, and clearly the cinema staff thought I was a raving loony in a city where only the poorest people used public transport and you were considered eccentric if you didn’t have a car.

We walked down a slip road from the shopping mall complex, and found ourselves in the poor, black residential district of Algiers. Oblivious to the dangers in this part of the city, we found a bus stop where a timetable showed the local buses were still running, so eventually we got back safely to the French Quarter.

While I was away in Tennessee and rural Louisiana, George visited another cinema (to see Paul Newman in ‘The Verdict’ I believe) in a similar complex north of the city, and had to walk home maybe ten miles. I would have been extremely worried if I’d known beforehand. He walked along the busy road which encircles the city, till he came to where most of the graveyards of New Orleans are located. There is an intersection here, with a road leading straight down into Canal Street. George saw a big black woman approaching, and asked her the direction. She said he could keep right on to the intersection and turn right, or take a short cut through the cemeteries, but she added that he may not want to do that at night. George replied it was the living he was scared of, not the dead, and he said she rolled her eyes and guffawed with laughter. So George went through the cemeteries, and eventually arrived back at the hotel.

He said he enjoyed himself whilst I was away, especially slipping out about 3 a.m. in the morning to visit the local 24 hour A&P supermarket, and then buying a whole roast chicken on his way back to the hotel, which he ate piping hot in his hotel room (George was always one for midnight snacks.) He also saw a production of ‘One Mo’ Time’ at the Toulouse Theater, which he liked very much, and he visited the Museum of Modern Art and the flea market among other places.

We both took the St Charles streetcar to the Garden district, with its fine houses. We also had ourselves photographed by a streetcar named Desire, which unfortunately no longer runs. It has been replaced by a bus called Desire, which doesn’t have quite the same Tennessee Williams ring to it. Buses and trams in New Orleans were all identified by their destination, not by numbers at that time, and Desire is a district in New Orleans. There was also a bus called by the less romantic name of Cemeteries.
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We both saw the Dustin Hoffman film ‘Tootsie’ together, in which he convincingly dragged up to play a woman in order to further his career. We also visited Preservation Hall and were very impressed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who were all musicians in their 70s or 80s. One of the tunes we both fondly remembered was ‘Where The Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day’ sung by a little old man. It was a lovely experience, and very inexpensive, but it is a tiny venue and gets extremely crowded, so you only stay half an hour or so at a time, to make room for others.

The day after Mardi Gras I went off on the Greyhound bus to visit Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee, and Natchez, Mississippi.

In Nashville I saw the Ryman Auditorium (original home of the Grand Ole Opry), the Country Music Hall of Fame, and attended a performance of the Grand Ole Opry itself at its new home in Opryland, hosted by Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl. I’m surprised I wasn’t lynched, as Roy asked the audience to stand and clap a five-star general in the audience who would ‘give the order to nuke the Russians’, and I remained firmly in my seat refusing to clap the bastard, whilst everyone else stood and clapped.

In Memphis I hired a car and drove around to see Jerry Lee Lewis’s current and former homes, including his ranch in Nesbit, Mississippi about 10 or 15 miles out of Memphis. I drove right up the driveway of the ranch and knocked on the door, and his housekeeper, Lottie, answered. She said Jerry was resting having just come out of hospital the day before, so I didn’t get to see him or the inside of his ranch on that occasion, unlike other fans who seemed to manage to see him, sometimes stay a week or so, and then stay with his sister in Ferriday. I had no such luck. I gave Lottie some of Jerry’s favorite Cuban cigars, took a few pictures around the grounds, and drove back to Memphis, pleased I had at least seen the ranch. Whilst in Memphis I also visited the famous Sun Records studios, where Elvis, Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and others started out, and ‘Gracelands’, the former home of Elvis Presley, whose grave is in the grounds.

I was not very impressed with ‘Gracelands’, which is like a cottage with a neo-classical pillared entrance much too ostentatious for the size of the house. I thought Jerry’s Nesbit ranch was at least as impressive, with its large lake in the grounds. I got sick to the teeth of ‘Elvis, Elvis, Elvis’ in Memphis. At the time I was there everything seemed to be run by the Gracelands Corporation, including the Sun Record Company tour and the studio itself. You rarely heard a mention of Jerry Lee Lewis or any of the other rock’n’roll stars who started their career at the Memphis Sun studio. There were one or two photos on the wall in the studio of Jerry Lee, Johnny Cash, etc., but all the records on sale were Elvis’ RCA Victor stuff, not even his Sun recordings. It was very disappointing, but I’m glad to say things have improved since and the Sun Studio is no longer reduced to an Elvis record shop, and the Sun tour is now well worth doing, with tapes of the music recorded there and staff who really know their stuff. Memphis had a statue to Elvis, and a major road named after him, Elvis Presley Boulevard, where Gracelands is located. When I mentioned to one of the Elvis tour guides that I’d like to hear a bit about Jerry Lee and some of the other Memphis rock’n’roll pioneers she looked at me as if I was mad. Perhaps she’d never heard of them, since she was too young to remember the era herself.

Anybody going to Memphis expecting it to be a haven for rock’n’roll would have been disappointed at that time, though things have now improved with rock’n’roll and blues museums honoring the city’s musicians. When I went in 1983 the people who met me at the bus station to take me to the hotel were only interested in Benny Hill, and kept asking me about him because of my British accent. Sun records were virtually unobtainable in Memphis at that time (though reissues could be bought in Shelby Singleton’s revived Sun label premises in Nashville). There were no memorials or streets in honor of Jerry Lee, or any of the other rock’n’roll stars except Elvis, as far as I could tell, just a statue of bluesman W. C. Handy and a couple of Elvis (although now Jerry Lee has his handprints and his name inscribed in a musical note laid in the paving stones of Beale Street). I always thought Elvis was very overrated, certainly as a rocker, though he excelled in ballads. He was in any case too much of an obedient Establishment figure under the control of his manager Colonel Tom Parker to be a true rock’n’roll rebel, unlike Jerry Lee and Chuck Berry, for instance, the two real bad boys of rock’n’roll who continued to represent the anarchic, rebellious nature of rock’n’roll, cocking a snoop at society.

After Memphis I headed south, changing buses in Vicksburg, and finally arriving in Natchez, Mississippi for a one night stay. I wanted to hire a car right away, as I was visiting nearby Ferriday, Louisiana (birthplace of Jerry Lee Lewis) next day. However there were no places open where I could hire a car. I rang Hertz, and they said their nearest branch was Biloxi, hundreds of miles away on the Gulf of Mexico. So I had to grab the only taxi in town, which already had one passenger and was hanging around like a vulture for any other stranded bus passengers. It was driven by a decrepit old man, with his wife by his side. We set off, and came to a busy intersection where he sailed across right into the path of an oncoming car. We narrowly missed a disastrous side-on collision which would have killed us all, but the loyal wife consoled her visibly shaken husband by saying: ‘It wasn’t your fault, honey.’ Of course it was as the silly old fool tried to cross a major road without even slowing down or looking to see if the path was clear.Â

Thankfully I climbed out of the taxi at my motel, a Best Western which had excellent food. The weather forecast that evening on TV was very depressing. They warned of flash floods for mid-Louisiana and the Miss-Lou area where I was staying, and advised against driving anywhere. In the event this was just alarmist exaggeration, and all I had to put up with was a persistent drizzle, which was nevertheless very annoying. We’d had beautiful sunny weather the rest of my stay in the South, yet the one day I got to visit my idol’s hometown it was raining all day. Return trips to Ferriday  in 1997, 1998 and 2002 also brought wet weather, so the ‘cool, Louisiana rain’ Jerry mentions in one of his autobiographical songs seems to be all too frequent.
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I hired a car early the next morning, and saw most of the places in Ferriday I’d wanted to see. I ran into a former teacher of Jerry’s, Martha Paul, working in a service station shop, and she came with me to try to locate the house where Jerry was born, but we couldn’t find it and she said she thought it might have been demolished. She then rang Frankie Jean (Jerry’s sister) and told me where she worked, but by the time I got there Frankie had made herself scarce. (On my return in 1997 I did indeed visit her house, then partly given over to a very interesting Jerry Lee Lewis museum since it was also his childhood home, and met Frankie on that occasion and others.) I visited the nearby family cemetery where Jerry’s two sons, mother and father plus many other relations were buried. I only found this thanks to instructions from Jerry Lee’s former wife, Myra (the child-bride of the 1958 scandal) whom I’d met in London a few weeks before promoting her book ‘Great Balls of Fire’, later made into the Dennis Quaid film of the same title. Myra had drawn a map for me on the back of a Cumberland Hotel serviette, and given me precise instructions, but I still had trouble finding it and had to ask directions at lonely farmhouses, half expecting some redneck hillbilly to shoot me for invading their property. All I found was very polite, helpful Southern hospitality which eventually enabled me to locate the graveyard.

I also visited the Assembly of God (Pentecostal) church where Jerry first played piano in public, and other places of interest, including Jerry Lee Lewis Avenue, which was little more than a dirt track on the very edge of town at that time, but which was beginning to be developed. I then boarded the Greyhound to travel south past Baton Rouge to New Orleans.

I had kept in touch by phone with George, who was worried about my embarking on such a long trip on my own, and driving unfamiliar cars on the wrong side of the road when I wasn’t used to driving at all, having given up my van in London years before because of expense and parking problems. I thought George was going to be out at the cinema or somewhere when I arrived, so it was a very pleasant surprise indeed when he was waiting for me at the bus station.
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I will always remember that happy reunion and his smiling face welcoming me ‘home’. We departed New Orleans in the early afternoon of Thursday and arrived back at Gatwick at 7.30 a.m. Friday morning. It had been one of our most memorable holidays.

After our holiday we had a quiet month or so. We were in the audience of another ‘Question Time’ in March, and we went on the revived (Jubilee) CND Aldermaston March at Easter. I went to Hyde Park with my local CND group for the start, and George and I traveled to Berkshire for the last lap. We walked all around the Aldermaston Weapons Research Establishment, which covers a huge area, pinning mementoes to the perimeter fence. I left a note recalling Malvin Side, an old campaigner who was on every anti-nuclear demo in the 60s and early 70s. We heard Pat Arrowsmith speaking from a parked truck, almost as if we’d gone back 25 years to the very first Aldermaston March which Pat helped to organize.
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There was a gay pub below the tower block where we lived, ‘The Cricketers’,  and we saw some drag acts there in May. We were  hoping to do our own improvised drag act there, as we knew the landlady quite well, and so we re-enacted some sketches we’d done at our parties, added some more, and filmed them on a black and white video camera we had. The novelty of the camera soon wore off, as it had to be attached by a lead to the video recorder, so could not be used outside the room.

We had several routines, and basically made it up as we went along. We were always in drag, and usually I played a lady aristocrat and George played a prostitute, but sometimes we were both old scrubbers or George was a refined Edinburgh ‘Miss Jean Brodie’ type. We made a tape full of these sketches, most featuring both of us, but some solo, and gave a selection of these to the landlady to give her an idea what our act was like.

Unfortunately, by the time we had it all organized and on tape, the pub ceased to be gay, and the couple we knew who ran it moved away to another pub. The new managers wanted to discourage the gay crowd and cater instead for the new Yuppie influx in Battersea, which became ‘South Chelsea’ in Yuppie-speak. The pub too changed its name, several times, and a gay tradition going back before the Second World War was never revived. Apart from a brief experiment at the theater bar of The Latchmere up the road and later a pub in Battersea High Street, neither of which were very successful, there has not been a gay pub in Battersea  since ‘The Cricketers’ went straight.

I was glad we filmed the sketches, and I have often watched them since George died. They still make me and other people laugh, and it is a memento of our happy times together. Indeed, as he lay dying, George got us to re-enact bits of the scrubbers sketch which we had on video, in a brave effort to cheer me up and make me remember the good times we’d shared together. I like to think that via these videos (now transferred to DVD) George and I can still entertain people who may never have met him.

On the last day of May we went on a CND direct action demonstration at Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire. It was a blockade of the air base, and George and I both got arrested along with hundreds of others. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, being arrested with George by my side. It showed how close we had grown politically.

A few months later we had to catch an early train to Banbury for the court case. They dealt with everyone very quickly, just a fine each, and I was very proud of George when he stood in the dock. It made us both feel very old when our birth dates were read out and we were both born in the 1940s, whereas most of the others arrested seem to have been born two decades later.

In June there was a General Election, and of course Margaret Thatcher got in again and soon abolished the GLC.

In August we traveled up to Scotland, where we were to stay in Betty’s caravan at Kinghorn. We traveled direct from Victoria to Kirkcaldy in Fife, instead of going by way of Glasgow. In Edinburgh on Sunday 21st we saw the Festival parade through the city, and I remember George pointing out a Polish film actress in Princes’ Gardens below the castle. She had appeared in several of Wojda’s films.

That evening we saw a very weird production of Brecht’s ‘Mother Courage’ which was held in a canteen of some sort, and seemed to consist of teenage women in jeans and sweaters crawling under tables and climbing on chairs whilst reciting the lines of the play and shining torches on each other, since this was the only illumination in the room. The activity took place in and around the audience, who sat at the canteen tables.

In the evening we saw a very late evening production called, appropriately, ‘Sheila Staefel Lately’.  In this one woman show Sheila sung old Victorian melodramatic songs about children dying of consumption and other tragedies, songs very similar to those of the traditional Country Music idiom which I liked.  We loved the performance, but had missed the last train across the Forth Bridge. We had to sit up on the station for an early morning train, and were so tired we both fell asleep and nearly ended up in the Highlands. Fortunately the jolt of the train stopping at Kinghorn woke us up just in time.

On the Tuesday we had a trip to Inverness. It was a nice day out, but it was not as mountainous as I had expected. I always imagined Inverness to be deep in a valley beneath towering peaks, but it was not like that at all, although there were gently curving mountains in the distance.
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The weather was slightly better this year, as I at least got down to my swimming trunks on Kinghorn beach. A couple of days before returning home paid a visit to Glasgow and George’s cousin, Margaret and her husband. We went back via Edinburgh and caught two more Festival productions, about which I remember nothing at all I’m afraid.

In mid-September we went to a meeting organized by Wandsworth Council to discuss the installation of entry phones and new lifts in our tower block. The council announced they were going to spend a lot of money closing in the open ground floor level, so it could only be accessed by a key or via the entry phone system. Within six months the council had apparently realized how much all this was going to cost and had second thoughts. At any rate they announced there was asbestos in the block, and decanted everybody.Â

At further public meetings several people asked to move back into the block after the asbestos had been removed, but the council said it was earmarked as sheltered accommodation for the elderly. This seemed highly unlikely, since a tower block is hardly suitable for such a purpose. In the event it was turned into luxury flats with entry phones, porters, a Jacuzzi,  a sauna, and a sort of penthouse on what was previously the roof. As Jay Court was named after the former Labour MP for the constituency, this was changed to Park South.

Our flat, which we think we saw featured on a local TV news program since it was an 18th floor flat with an identical view to ours, was sold for £150,000. The views of Battersea Park and the more distant Roddy Llewellyn’s Battersea Village restaurant (impossible to see with the naked eye) were advertised to prospective buyers, but not the fact that as soon as you stepped out of the main entrance you were facing the adjacent Doddington Estate, also featured on a local news program as then one of the most notorious estates in London and a mugger’s paradise. The yuppies who moved into our refurbished flats must have been rich pickings. Back in September, though, we naively thought we were going to get the benefits of the planned improvements to our block.

Early in December Quentin Crisp appeared at The Cricketers pub next door to where we lived. From notes in George’s diary it seemed he was in correspondence with Quentin, evidently hoping Quentin would find time to pop up the tower block and see his old friend when he appeared at the pub. I am sure this never happened, at least not whilst I was there. Possibly George got to have a few words with Quentin in private in the pub. During December and over Christmas the pub put on several Christmas shows, including ‘Cinderella’, starring drag acts like Adrella, The Playgirls and Regina Fong. There was also The Playgirls’ Christmas Show, ‘Robin Hood and his Merry Leather Men’ starring Lick, Stick and Promise, and Pip Morgan in ‘Sleeping Princess’. I think we saw most, if not all, of these productions. There was also a camp production called ‘Boys Will Be Girls’ at the Arts Theater Club in December, which we went to see.

Our days at Jay Court were coming to an end, and the block was fast emptying. We didn’t want to delay too long as robberies were becoming more frequent in the half-empty block. So in January 1984 we paid a visit to the Kambala Estate near Clapham Junction to view a council flat we had been offered.

13. KAMBALA ESTATE

Kambala was one of the last council estates to be built in Wandsworth, planned by the last Labour council, and it was a low rise, pleasant estate with gardens and courtyards. We hoped to get a ground floor flat with a garden, but were very disappointed to be told these were reserved for old and disabled people. Of course, I now realize I should have qualified for a ground floor flat because of my disability (a club foot at birth resulting in a fixed ankle, one leg shorter than the other and the need for surgical shoes), but I didn’t think of myself as disabled so it simply didn’t occur to me to mention it. Anyway, we did feel safer upstairs, and less likely to be burgled, especially during our many trips abroad.

We viewed the upstairs flat which we eventually moved into, and although it was a lovely flat, because it didn’t have a garden or even a balcony we refused to accept it at first. George had a strange feeling as he walked around it that unhappy things would occur there – perhaps he sensed that he and several of our cats would die there. Anyway, after initially walking out of the estate office saying we’d have to think about it, we eventually retraced our steps and said we’d take it. I’m sure we did the right thing, as it was an even better flat than we had before, with a huge kitchen and plenty of cupboards.

We got the keys the following week and moved in on a Monday in January 1984. The council were paying for the removal, but the company they used were rather careless and broke our dressing table mirror. Thankfully George and I had packed some of our more delicate things in a shopping trolley, and I walked over to the new flat with the cat. I had to wait ages before George arrived, as he stayed to see the men put everything we wanted to take in the van. We were leaving our old suite and several other things, and buying some new stuff. The council gave us a certain amount of compensation for the inconvenience of the compulsory removal and for some of the resulting expenses.

George arrived, and we waited in the empty flat with no furniture for hours till the removal men finally arrived. They had decided to take a long lunch break right in the middle of our move!

The next few weeks we were busy getting straight, buying carpets and curtains, fixing a bathroom cabinet, etc. It was to be the last home we ever had together, and the best. In the next 7 years, thanks largely to George, we really got it looking nice.

No sooner had we moved into our new flat than we had a visitor from Glasgow. George’s nephew, John, was doing a cookery course at the Hotel Forum in Kensington and paid us a short visit. He had never been to London before, and he and his fellow trainee cooks were wandering around posh Kensington trying in vain to find a ‘fish supper’. Not finding a fish and chip shop they contented themselves with raiding the mini-bars in their rooms, not realizing they had to pay for these drinks before they left.

One Sunday in February we invited Ray and Vic, the landlord and landlady of ‘The Cricketers’, round to lunch to see our new flat and discuss the possibility of our doing a drag show, but they left the pub soon after and it went straight. They’d only been in the pub a year and had really turned it around to one of London’s most popular gay venues. It was a shame they couldn’t stay there, but I believe there were problems with the lease.

George was by now working at Oxfam, a charity which was to be a main part of his life during the next few years. He was really suited to the work, starting off helping out in a shop just off Carnaby Street. He never got full recognition for his efforts, mainly because at the crucial time when he might have been offered a shop manager’s post which could have led to paid employment at Oxfam, he left to go back to the Australian company we had once both worked for. I know he regretted this decision later, but at the time he thought it was for the best.

In March we caught a coach from the Victoria Embankment for a long weekend in Amsterdam. We made so many short visits to Paris and Amsterdam I can’t recall details of individual trips, but we always enjoyed ourselves in these two cities.

We were off on our travels again in mid-May. We caught a double-decker ‘luxury’ coach, complete with hostess, coffee and sandwiches, to the South of France. We traveled by coach and ferry all that day, right through the night, skirting round the center of Paris, and going through Lyon. It was a good job we brought food and drink with us, for we didn’t see any sign of the hostess on the upper deck until the afternoon of the second day, when she tried in vain to sell us sandwiches which by now were quite stale. We’d seen them taken into the coach nice and fresh in London, but the lazy cow had let us starve for 24 hours before she got off her butt and tried to get rid of her stale stock just before arriving at our South of France destination!

When we did arrive it was raining. This more or less set the pattern for the week. Having stayed at George’s sister’s caravan in Scotland a couple of times, we had decided to go on our first foreign caravan holiday. It seemed a cheap way to see the South of France. Our caravan site was in Antibes, and as we trekked across the muddy camp site (which fortunately had paved roads) we discovered our tiny caravan was as far away from the entrance as it could be. Beyond the perimeter hedge alongside the caravan was a country lane.

We had expected a caravan similar to Betty’s, which had a separate bedroom. Instead we squeezed into a tiny space hardly big enough to swing the proverbial cat. When the beds were down there was barely room to move, and the rain on the roof kept us awake for hours. At least we were able to step out on to relatively solid ground, but the caravan opposite seemed to be in the middle of a swamp, and the occupants had to step gingerly on to wooden planks to get to dry land.
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Despite the bad weather, we enjoyed our holiday. Graham Greene had a home in Antibes, though we never saw it or, indeed, Mr Greene. We caught buses from the site into town, where a train ran conveniently all along the coast into Italy one way, and probably into Spain the other way. Our favorite town in the area was Nice, where we discovered the ‘Flunch’ chain of self-service cafeterias. These were confined to the South of France at the time, but later moved northwards to Paris, and we always used to visit the ‘Flunch’ there too.

We loved self-service restaurants as you could see what you were getting before you ordered, and you didn’t have waiters hovering around you. It was really essential for George, as he was so fussy about what he ate. It was impossible to eat in any place where he couldn’t see and smell the food before ordering. One whiff of onion or garlic and he was likely to be physically sick, and the sight of any kind of sauce, or ‘muck and squalor’ as George so delightfully put it, and he wouldn’t touch the food. The Nice ‘Flunch’ became our second home, so we made daily trips to Nice to visit it. We certainly couldn’t be bothered trying to cook meals in our tiny caravan, so the cafeteria was a Godsend.

Nice itself was a pleasant city with pretty gardens, wide boulevards, fountains, a very wide, long promenade with a stony beach and at one end a high cliff with gardens and a water cascade. The palm trees gave it all an exotic look, even in the rain. There was also an old quarter with steps and narrow winding streets which we liked very much.

We took the train to Cannes, where the film festival was in full swing. This meant, ironically, there wasn’t a film to be seen for the ordinary tourist like us, since all the cinemas had been taken over by the industry, and tickets were unavailable to the general public. We hated Cannes. You could not even go on the sandy beaches since they were all private and mostly attached to hotels. So unimpressed were we with the town, I haven’t got one picture of it in our photo album.

One day we took a train along the coast to Monte Carlo. We spent a lovely day looking round the principality. We saw the palace guard in their strange uniforms outside the palace, and visited the yacht harbor, where George posed with a yachting cap, making out he had a boat moored there. We also found the Casino, and I took George’s photo outside. It was quite a nice day, and eventually we stumbled upon the Monte Carlo beach which amazingly (unlike in Cannes) was a free public beach. It was a lovely bay of soft sand, with palm trees and very few people. I went in for a swim – it was cold, but at least I could say I went swimming in the millionaire’s paradise of Monte Carlo!

We then caught the train again to go further east back into France for a few miles, and then across the border into Italy and the town of Ventimiglia, a haven of cheap booze, especially Italian vermouth. We bought several bottles before catching the train back through Monte Carlo to Antibes.

The longest trip we made was an all day journey by train west to Marseilles, a town George had always wanted to visit since seeing the Marcel Pagnol ‘Marius’ trilogy of films. Once there we visited the waterfront marina, where George again posed in his yachting cap in front of the yachts, and we made the pilgrimage up the big hill to the cathedral overlooking Marseilles and the harbor. Well it certainly felt like a pilgrimage, as it was quite a climb.

We only had a short time in the city, but we liked what we saw, and took a lot of photos. There were some marvelous buildings, sculptures and fountains, and in my album there is a very sexy photo of George wearing a light colored jacket, jeans and a check shirt sitting on a fence in front of the big neo-Classical cascade fountain and sculpture.

Later on in Marseilles we found a little sandy beach, and George sat overlooking it whilst I went for a swim. We also had time to make our way to the head of the harbor, where there was a good view of the city. All too soon it was time to catch the train for the long journey back to Antibes.

Two days later we caught the coach back to London. It had been an interesting trip, despite the poor weather and primitive accommodation, and it gave us a chance to see the French Riviera.  It was not a place we would want to rush back to, though I have called in on the Nice/Monte Carlo area since on cruise ships. Marseilles was perhaps our favorite memory of our stay in Antibes.

In June President Reagan visited London and there were some protests which we certainly sympathized with, if we didn’t participate. I saw his helicopter fly low over Hyde Park as I was swimming at the Lido in the Serpentine one day. Ronnie and Nancy were staying in Battersea House, a 10 minute walk from where we lived. This river-side house was very convenient for Battersea heliport, from which the President could be whisked to any part of London within minutes.

We went on the Gay Pride march at the end of the month, and the weekend after on a sponsored canal walk organized by CND. It was a very long walk indeed, starting somewhere in central London, all along the canal towpaths and the banks of the River Lee to Lea Bridge. George dropped out at Victoria Park and caught the bus back home.Â

The August Bank Holiday we spent with our friends Rose and Neil in Hastings, going down Friday and staying till the Monday. The two of them used to go boating on the Norfolk Broads every year, with Neil’s sister, her husband and their son. On one such trip Neil struck up an acquaintance with a woman named Ena, whose family owned a string of pubs and hotels in Norfolk. Ena must have been pretty naive, for she didn’t seem to cotton on that Neil and Rose were a gay couple, even though Rose is the campest creature on Earth.

A romance developed between Ena and Neil, and at one point they were planning to get married. Rose was rather upset by all this naturally, but put it down to a senile phase Neil was going through in his old age. Later Rose and Ena became very good friends.

I think for Neil it was nice to get a bit of attention and to be looked after by Ena. Rose was lazy and would never cook meals or fuss over Neil like Ena did. Of course the fact that Ena’s family owned a string of Norfolk pubs was undoubtedly part of the attraction, and indeed Neil found temporary summer time work in one of the hotels they managed in Great Yarmouth for years after Ena died. They never got married in the end, but I remember going down to Hastings when she was there and they behaved like a couple of love-struck teenagers, chasing each other around the flat.

I can’t remember the first time I met Ena, but it must have been sometime in the early 1980s. I went down to Hastings a day or so before George, and Ena not only refused to call me by my name, she directed all conversation to me via Neil, asking: ‘Would Rose’s gentleman friend like a cup of tea?’ (She used Rose’s real name, not his camp one.)

Of course Ena took over the kitchen completely. She did not seem to mind the mess, putting it down to two men living on their own without a woman’s touch. I can’t remember things improving very much whilst Ena was staying there though, to be honest. When George came down Ena referred to him as ‘Rose’s other gentleman friend’.

George had no time for Ena at all, especially when she insisted on cooking some foul concoction with curry powder in it, which stank the whole flat out. George and I hated curry, so he went into the kitchen to investigate the horrible smell and to tell Ena he couldn’t eat ‘that muck’, but she ordered him out saying: ‘I can’t have men in my kitchen’. Well, it wasn’t her kitchen to start with, and George soon put her right about the gender question.

Ena had a horrible dog called Becky which snapped and barked whenever anyone came near. Ena used to say: ‘She doesn’t like men.’ George decided to put Ena straight, so in response to one of these remarks about men he replied: ‘There’s no men in this flat, haven’t you worked that out yet dear?’ This seem to perplex her, but George soon made sure she got the message. He sent Rose a very camp card on his birthday which could leave Ena in no doubt Rose was gay, and she apparently broke down in tears and said she didn’t want to come between Rose and Neil or spoil their relationship. I think that is probably the moment they all agreed to remain just good friends, and Rose’s relationship with Ena took a turn for the better. She became very ill soon afterwards, and eventually died. Rose took great care of her in the last days, visiting her at the hospital in Norfolk. He seemed to take more care of her than her own family did, and after she died tended the rather neglected grave whenever he went up to Norfolk.

On this particular visit I can’t remember if Ena was there, but whenever she was she would change her dress about three times a day. She and Neil would get up, then she’d change to go to the pub for a lunchtime drink, change again when she got back, and change again to go to another pub in the evening. She wore a lot of make-up, and had her hair in ringlets. George said she looked like Bette Davis in ‘Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?’ and he wasn’t far off the mark.

In October I went up to Barrow-in-Furness for a national CND demonstration against Trident and December saw us on a demonstration and march to the Soviet embassy, and also at a rally in Trafalgar Square marking the anniversary of the arrival of Cruise missiles in the UK. Another year came to a close, this time without a New Year’s Eve party.

We were pretty active in this second big phase of CND which coincided with Maggie Thatcher’s premiership and the arrival of Cruise missiles.  Early in the New Year we went on a CND vigil outside the Belgian embassy. CND seemed pretty active that month as we also went on an anti-Cruise vigil on Clapham Common and helped out at a local CND jumble sale. Even at the annual Easter Parade in Battersea Park, which we attended, the local CND had a stall.

In mid April we were off to Portugal for the first time, with my mother. We were to spend a week on the Atlantic Coast at Estoril, a short train ride from the capital, Lisbon.

It was only a moderately successful week, mainly because the weather was rather dull and overcast with some rain, a fact my mother never let us forget. We were all sharing a room in the hotel (to save money) and very early in the morning my mother would wake us up by trying to creep to the French windows leading out to our large balcony overlooking the sea, in order to open them up and have a cigarette. Every morning she seemed to trip over something in the semi darkness and exclaim ‘Oh shit’, which woke us both up. We then pretended to be asleep hoping she would keep quiet, but it was always the same routine. She would open the curtains and window, light up her cigarette and say: ‘Cloudy again, duck. Don’t think we’ll see the sun today.’

It was like an accusation: ‘You’ve brought me all the way out here when I’d have been happier in Margate. Where’s all this sun they are supposed to have in Portugal?’ Perhaps it wasn’t meant that way, but that’s how it came across to us, and it was most annoying. The last thing we wanted to know at 7 a.m. in the morning was that it wasn’t worth getting up because the weather was so horrible.

Of course, most people holiday on the Algarve in the South of Portugal, but the Atlantic coast is always cooler. Also, April is very early in the year to expect summer weather. However, we were very near Lisbon and could catch a train just across the road, so we made several trips there and enjoyed exploring a new capital city.

One thing which surprised us were the number of beggars about – it was almost like being in a Third World country. Yet the main streets were paved with very ornate tiles which gave them an affluent look. In the central area was an old iron tower housing a lift which led up to an observation platform and a high level walkway, which was unusual. Otherwise Lisbon was a typical Continental capital, with its streetcars, large squares, and an old district of narrow winding streets called Alfama. There was also an area called Belem which had quite an impressive monument to sailors on the waterfront, and on the way into Lisbon by train you passed under an impressive suspension bridge across the river, and on the far side could be seen a smaller-scale replica of the huge statue of Christ which overlooks Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Whilst in Portugal we paid a visit to Sintra, an old town set on a hill inland, which is very picturesque. Tourist buses go there, but we made our way by local bus which was much more interesting and a lot cheaper.

Estoril itself wasn’t much to write home about. It had a large casino, but not much else. We were staying on a bed and breakfast basis, and it was cheaper to eat out than in the hotel. My mother rather irritated us by eating in the hotel several times rather than be bothered looking for cheaper places with us. When she did eat with us at a restaurant she was sometimes acutely embarrassing. We found a reasonable place overlooking the main gardens by the casino, and as it was fairly good weather that day we had our meal at a table outside.

As the waiter put a cloth on the table my mother exclaimed: ‘Oooh!’, like a little girl excited at the sight of a tablecloth, and then tried to speak to the waiter in, of all things, Greek! (She only spoke a few words of the language herself.) We told her it’s no use speaking Greek to a Portuguese waiter, but she just said she kept forgetting.  (Foreigners were associated in her mind with her husband’s friends and relations.)

She then asked us how much we should tip the waiter, but as this was early on in the holiday we hadn’t yet gotten used to the local currency, so she tried to ask the waiter how much the various coins were worth. It was quite farcical, an English woman trying to ask in English and Greek what Portuguese coins were worth in English currency to a waiter who only spoke Portuguese. As the young man smiled sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders to indicate he didn’t understand what she was on about, my mother finally had to admit defeat and give up. After that we didn’t try too hard to dissuade her if she decided to eat by herself in the hotel.

There was a lovely little town a few kilometers from Estoril, one station down the line in the opposite direction from Lisbon. It was a fishing village called Cascais, full of picturesque streets with whitewashed houses and shops. We spent some nice days there, and saw an open air Festival in one of the little squares in honor of the Portuguese revolution overthrowing the Salazar dictatorship. We also found a very good little cafe in Cascais where we all ate on several occasions.

There was a big shopping mall in Estoril which included a cinema complex, and I remember George and my mother electing to go and see ‘Amadeus’, the film about Mozart. Since this didn’t appeal to me I went in one of the other cinemas and saw something else. Afterwards we met and had a huge ice cream sundae each in the complex whilst discussing the films we had seen.
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The last day of our holiday was beautiful weather, so we headed down for the beach thinking at least my mother couldn’t grumble about this day. We were wrong. She embarrassed us more than ever by stripping off down to her petticoat (why on Earth didn’t she wear her bathing costume, like she usually did on beach holidays?) Not content with this exhibitionism, she insisted on putting up her black umbrella to use as a sunshade. This was the first real sun we had seen in our week’s holiday, and she had been moaning about no sun all week, yet there she was sitting in the shade against a wall in her pink petticoat under a black umbrella grumbling: ‘Too bloody hot’ over and over again. We just couldn’t win, and swore never to take her on holiday again.

Poor George, no wonder his relationship with my mother was always strained. It was the classic ‘mother-in-law’ situation only worse, since George knew my mother resented George being a man. She had always wanted me to marry a girl and give her some grandchildren. Although my mother said she accepted George, and knew how much he had helped me and was good for me, making me a much more well-adjusted and less bitter person, there was always that unspoken resentment that George was not my wife or the mother of my children, and never could be.

We flew back to London on the Friday. It had been an interesting holiday to a new country, but spoiled by the weather and my mother’s rather silly behavior. In later years we laughed at the whole situation, but it caused tension at the time. No wonder George gave my mother the nickname ‘Mum Grouch’. Apart from her moaning, it annoyed him immensely that an intelligent woman should put on this ‘silly little girl’ or ‘senile dementia’ act, but somehow holidays abroad always brought out this eccentric behavior which never happened at home.

 During that Spring we visited Battersea Park several times, where the Buddhist Peace Pagoda was inaugurated on May 14th. I went along to that alone, but while they were still building the Pagoda George and I visited the Buddhist nuns who lived in the park, and gave them a very modest present of some fruit. They were embarrassingly grateful and kept bowing, so we had to keep bowing back, and then to our horror they invited us into a temple-like room with a statue of the Buddha at one end and incense burning, and George and I had to kneel before this ‘golden idol’ with our little bag of fruit as if it were some sacrificial offering. The nuns and monks looking after the Pagoda relied on donations such as ours, but we didn’t expect to have to offer them up to the Buddha first for his blessing. All this Eastern mysticism was hidden away in a little hut behind some bushes in Battersea Park.

In late August I finished working at Austral Development after about ten years, the longest I had ever stayed in one job. George was to take over from me working with our friend Angel on alternate shifts, as he thought it would enable him to catch up with telex technology, a field he hadn’t worked in for a year or so. The job wasn’t to last, as the firm was on its last legs. We both knew that, and it was the reason I was leaving and taking a part-time job at Amnesty International at slightly less money. It proved to be a very good move for myself, as the money at AI soon went up to way above what I could get per hour anywhere else, but not such a good move for George. He felt later if he’d stayed with Oxfam he would have got a permanent paid job very soon, as he was already a successful voluntary shop leader. But in the end it was his decision to go back to Austral and so end a long period of unemployment.

The day after I left Austral we were off to Scotland. During our week’s stay we visited Edinburgh, and went on a one day trip to the Highlands by train, visiting places like Oban (which had a sort of mini-Coliseum) and Fort William. Whilst in Glasgow we paid a visit to the Citizen’s Theatre to see a production.

We both started our new jobs on Monday September 2nd, George at Austral Development and myself at Amnesty International. Both of us had worked at these places in the past. Since George had left AI they had moved from Covent Garden to bigger premises at Mount Pleasant. I knew quite a few of the people from when I worked there before on a part-time basis, and also people George had introduced me to at parties and theater visits.

There was a sit-down blockade at Molesworth Cruise missile base that month, the ground was covered in snow and I slipped and fell. Later, on the sit-down demo, I ate my sandwiches and was about to drink a cup of soup from my flask, when I realized the little bits floating in it were shivers of broken glass from inside the flask, which had apparently shattered when I fell, though there was no way of knowing this looking at the outside of the flask. I had a narrow and lucky escape from serious internal injury. George had stayed home for this demo.

In early March we were off to Paris for four days, a long weekend. We went with Rose by train and Hovercraft, and stayed in a little Vietnamese-owned hotel near the Eiffel Tower. We had a great time, and Rose really enjoyed it. It may well have been his first trip abroad, and certainly it was his first to Paris. George in particular enjoyed showing his oldest friend around the city he loved so much, and where he had lived for several months in the 1960s.

We visited all the usual tourist sights and Oscar Wilde’s grave in Pere Lachaise cemetery, where of course we also visited Edith Piaf’s plot. Our hotel room was rather sleazy, as so often with small Paris hotels, but we loved it. The washing area was screened off by a little partition with an archway, and the walls were covered with pink floral paper. It was quite homely in a way, and we sat in there and ate snacks consisting of French bread, sardines and bottles of duty-free gin.

No sooner were we back from Paris than we were off to Amsterdam in March for a weekend. I can’t recall the details as we went so many times.

Significantly that Spring we attended a play about AIDS and later watched an AIDS movie on TV called ‘An Early Frost’. George remarked in his diary that the TV play was ‘very good’. In later years he would turn the TV off or to another channel when AIDS was mentioned, and in retrospect I can see he was OK with AIDS plays, films and TV programs until he started to develop possible symptoms (recurrent mouth ulcers) of HIV himself around mid-1988.

At the end of the month we were off on our first visit to Yugoslavia.  We flew to Dubrovnik on Saturday June 28th, and next day set off on a coach tour of the country which was to last a week. Traveling up coast and then inland, we left Croatia and entered Bosnia-Hercegovina where we visited Mostar with its ancient arched bridge (since destroyed then rebuilt). We crossed this and went inside what they called a ‘Turkish’ house, which was a Muslim dwelling open to visitors.

Next stop was Sarajevo where we stayed in a skyscraper hotel in a wide boulevard. A tremendous dramatic thunderstorm brew up the night we arrived, perhaps symbolic of the turmoil to come to that ill-fated city.

It was here in the Sarajevo hotel that our Slovenian courier, Paul, made his move. He invited us to join him at his table for dinner. Afterwards we had drinks in the bar, and he invited us up to his room for more drinks and… well, it was pretty obvious by then what he was after. This is where George’s problems came to the fore. Whether or not he fancied Paul, he just could not respond to his advances at all without amphetamines, and he had none with him on this trip. The result was he got into a blind panic, and just could not cope with the situation. He had one drink in Paul’s room and then made his excuses and left.

Paul was reasonably good-looking but certainly not the dream courier one might have fantasies about scoring with. However, I felt we had led him along a bit, or allowed him to lead us on, and accepted his drinks, etc., and we had many days to go with him on the trip. I did not feel I too could make my excuses and leave. George had said to me he didn’t mind if I stayed, so Paul and myself had a little session and then I left to join George for the night. I had to try and explain George’s behavior to Paul, and the best I could think of was that he wasn’t very well and wasn’t in the mood. Both were the wrong thing to say, because next day as we boarded the coach Paul asked George how he felt today and if he was in ‘a better mood’. He was definitely interested in scoring with George, and I got the feeling it was him rather than me Paul was really after. For George in his later years, however, it was strictly a case of ‘no sweeties, no sex’ and it was as frustrating for him as for those who had desires on him. So those few minutes with Paul were the only sex I had myself during the holiday.

Next day we visited the center of the city, including a museum near the spot where the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand took place which sparked the First World War. The actual street corner where this happened was pointed out to us. We then went on to Banja Luka for our overnight stay, stopping en route in Jajce where there was an impressive waterfall. We had a quick look round the shops in Banja Luka that night, but we were off quite early headed for the Croatian capital.

Zagreb was a very European city after Muslim Mostar and Sarajevo, with an impressive twin-spired Gothic cathedral, and a delightful church with a Central/East European type spire (like a squashed onion) and colorful mosaics on its sloping roof, visible from the street, depicting various coats-of-arms. There was also a big square ablaze with neon signs at night, and full of cafe tables and people by day. We stayed at a very up market hotel in Zagreb, the Inter-Continental (part of the Western chain).

Next stop on our itinerary was Ljubljana in Slovenia, and the city where our courier, Paul, had been to University. We only had an hour or two there, but what we saw of it was very attractive. There was a beautiful bridge over the river, a fortress on a hill overlooking the city and plenty of big shops.

For our overnight stop we stayed in a rural setting in Postojna, where there are some very deep caves. The hotel was set by a weir on a river, and was also right next to the cave system, which of course we visited. The only thing I can remember is how very cold they were, and how warm it felt when we came back into the sunshine.

Bypassing the center of Rijeka, then the main northern port of Yugoslavia, we headed inland again for the Plitvice area for our overnight stay. This was really the highlight of the coach tour for me, a beautiful rural park full of waterfalls, lakes and woods. I swam in the lake, and we went on a kind of nature land trail part of which crossed the lakes on floating bridges consisting of a footpath made of planks literally floating on the water. It was the most beautiful place in our entire trip, which had included some breathtaking scenery. Imagine how sad I was years after George died to read of the bloodshed that had taken place right there in Plitvice amidst all that natural beauty. For me, however, it remains a tranquil place of beauty and peace in a wonderful, united, Socialist country called Yugoslavia where I spent three happy holidays.

Our next stop was Zadar, an ancient town on the coast with some old Roman-type remains by an unusual circular building next to a five-story spire. We had a meal in a restaurant overlooking the marina.

Further down the coast we stopped in Trogir, a very picturesque town with palm trees lining the promenade, and a fortress, clock tower and some other impressive buildings.

Our next overnight stop was in Split, in a modern hotel overlooking the harbor. We fell in love with Split, and may well have paid another visit there sometime had George’s death and the civil war not intervened. One disadvantage over Dubrovnik, however, was the apparent lack of good, accessible beaches in the town itself.

It was a very interesting city indeed. The old part of the town was a hodgepodge of architecture from different eras. Relatively modern buildings had been erected literally on top of much older walls, beneath which were dungeons or catacombs. Inside the ancient walled city were some old ruins and columns, and mushrooming between these were the colorful umbrellas of a street market. There were little narrow winding streets, which opened up into open piazzas and irregularly shaped ‘squares’. One in particular which had cafe tables set out we stopped at several times for drinks.

It was in Split we discovered Mestrovic, a local sculptor whose statue of a religious figure dominated some gardens just outside the city wall.  There was an art gallery dedicated to his work, and we enjoyed it immensely. He had a unique style, specializing in impressive, heavy, solid Slavic figures, some in almost surrealist postures. We liked his work so much we bought a white figurine depicting one of Mestrovic’s works on display in the gallery, a peasant woman in a headscarf, kneeling on one knee with her hands clasped over her ears. The sculpture is entitled ‘Despair’. It was prophetic of the times to come in that beautiful, troubled land. All this symbolism was lost on George’s sister when she visited from Glasgow one time, saw the peasant woman ornament and commented: ‘That woman looks as if she’s got a sore heed.’

We arrived back in Dubrovnik at the end of our coach tour and said farewell to Paul, our courier, before moving into our hotel for our week’s stay in the city.

It seemed Dubrovnik had everything. An ancient walled city which was perhaps the best preserved anywhere in the world. Also many excellent beaches, and a hill with a cable car overlooking the Old Town. Also an island just offshore, easy to reach by boat. We explored all these during our stay.

The Dubrovnik Festival was on whilst we were there, and we attended the opening ceremony which was held after dark and consisted of a procession in medieval costume. There was also a very impressive firework display which we watched from the walls of the Old City overlooking the sea.

The Old Town within the walls contained one long, wide pedestrian street (motor vehicles are banned from the Old Town) lined with shops and with a clock tower at one end. Just off this street in a maze of narrow alleys was a self-service restaurant we visited nearly every day. We called it Madame Tito’s after a nice woman who worked there under the obligatory portrait of Marshal Tito.

We loved exploring the alleyways, and because the town was built on different levels, many of these narrow streets were very steep, with flights of steps. The buildings were very close together, and there was plenty of foliage in the narrow streets. There were also tranquil courtyards with palm trees and other plants.

We walked right around the city walls, which give beautiful views of the tiled-roofed Old Town, the sea and islands and the mountain behind (from which the Serbs later shelled the ancient city, but thankfully did little damage apparently).

The main entrance to the Old Town was by way of an arch and drawbridge, and this led to the main square from which the local buses left. The other side of the Old Town we discovered a little beach, which was very convenient when you wanted to relax after walking round the hot cobbled streets.

Whilst in Dubrovnik I bought a snorkel and mask and discovered for the first time a whole new dimension beneath the sea in the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic, which are excellent for this activity, the fauna, rock formations and fish being so interesting and abundant.

We also visited a beach further out of town near the main tourist hotels. This gave the impression of being on a lake, because the sea inlet here was surrounded by mountains. It was like a tropical version of the Scottish lochs or English lake district. This was the Babin Kuk area of Dubrovnik. We also visited the nearby island, mainly covered with trees, and I had a swim in the sea there too, and in a little pond on the island.

We went up in the cable car and from the mountain top had a breathtaking view of the Old Town, harbor and the island. Also of the modern town beyond the city walls.

Whilst staying in Dubrovnik we went by bus to the nearby town of Cavtat, where there is a mausoleum set on a hill jutting out to sea. You can walk all round the peninsular in about half an hour, which has a rocky beach good for swimming and snorkeling. Cavtat was also an attractive little town, with narrow streets and pleasant pavement cafes, and it was also surrounded by mountains, making it very picturesque.

On Saturday July 12th we returned to London, having packed an awful lot into those two weeks. We had seen most of Yugoslavia, but strangely Serbia and the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade had been omitted from this, and most other, tours of the country. We certainly enjoyed what we saw very much, and decided to go back again the following year.

I have returned to Dubrovnik and Split with my mother on a cruise ship in the early 21st Century, and though they hadn’t physically changed much, of course politically they are very different. No longer in Yugoslavia, no longer Socialist, and no longer using the dinar but some stupid local currency nobody has ever heard of. I upset the waitress, who accepted our Euros, by asking what the local currency was and what was wrong with the Yugoslav dinar! Or indeed the Euro, since Croatia was now in the EU. I just can’t get used to the post-Communist era in these countries, and missed the Red Star on the local red, white and blue tricolor flags.

The following March we departed Gatwick early in the morning bound for Gibraltar and a tour of Southern Spain, with possibly our first visit to North Africa thrown in.

We caught an early morning flight from Gatwick and arrived at the very unusual Gibraltar airport, on a narrow isthmus between Spain and The Rock, about midday. The sun was shining and we were in for a very pleasant surprise as we were driven, not into Gibraltar town itself, but to the other side of The Rock and a little village called Catalan Bay. This consisted of a few houses, shops, bars, a little church and a quite big hotel, plus a sandy beach. Our hotel was right next to the beach, and I well remember going in the sea for a swim the day we arrived, March 1st. The sea was cold, but I enjoyed it all the more because we just never expected to be anywhere near a beach on this touring holiday, and certainly did not expect this hot sunshine so early in the year.

Next day we were hoping to take a one day trip to Tangier in Morocco, just across the Straits, as advertised in the holiday brochure. However, at the welcoming party the night before they announced that for some reason the trip was off, so George and I never got to step foot on the African continent together. Instead we spent more time on the beach. There weren’t that many tourists, but quite a few young lads were loafing around in jeans and Union Jack t-shirts, obviously from the British military bases on the other side of The Rock.

The bars were full of them too, and no wonder. Drinks, especially spirits, were ridiculously cheap. George and I knocked back the gin and tonics like there was no tomorrow.

We did a tour of The Rock that day too, through Gibraltar town and right up to Europa Point to view the Pillars of Hercules. These are two mountains, The Rock of Gibraltar itself and another mountain in Morocco, which stand each side of the Straits of Gibraltar, one ‘pillar’ in Europe and the other in Africa. Through the heat haze we could just make out the mountain on the other side, the only time George and I glimpsed the African continent together.

There was a cable car from Gibraltar town up to the top of The Rock, but we went by road in the coach, and halfway up The Rock alongside the road we encountered the famous Barbary Apes roaming around free as birds. Rumor has it that when they disappear or die off, the British will leave Gibraltar. The coach then drove on to some excavations in The Rock, which we explored on foot. These caves led right through to the other side, and there were observation points looking out across the airport towards Spain. Of course all these were used as fortifications in the Second World War.

We also spent some time walking around Gibraltar town, getting a little bus in from Catalan Bay. It was an eerie experience seeing shops you would find in any British high street, red pillar boxes and British police uniforms in a Mediterranean climate. It felt like being on the Isle of Wight or somewhere very close to home, but it also didn’t seem right to us and smacked of colonialism. ( I visited Gibraltar again with my mother on a cruise in 2009.)

Next day we set off in the coach across the airport runway, which transversed the main road from Gibraltar into Spain. Luckily there seem to be few collisions between planes and road traffic as people tend to obey the lights and gates of this unique level crossing. We crossed the border into Spain and headed for Seville by way of Jerez, famous for its namesake, sherry.

We of course stopped in Jerez and visited the Sandemann’s sherry distillery, where we saw the process and had a good sample of the product. We sat at long tables where bottles and glasses were placed at our disposal. George remarked afterwards how all those people with phony posh accents gradually lost them as they drank more sherry, till they were laughing and joking in working class dialects like the rest of us, betraying their true origins. He really enjoyed this observation as much as the sherry itself.

We then pressed on to Seville (famous for its oranges and the opera ‘Carmen’) for our two night stay. As soon as we reached Seville we saw orange trees full of fruit lining the streets. We were told they were bitter and only fit for marmalade, but whether this was just a tale told to tourists to stop the trees being stripped bare I can’t say.

Our time in Seville was marred by George’s face swelling up alarmingly around the eyes. We went to a local pharmacist in Seville, and the assistant diagnosed acute sunburn. Lying out in that hot Gibraltar sunshine after coming straight from an English winter had caused George’s face to react in this way. The pharmacist prescribed some cream which George applied, and by the time we left Seville his face was going back to normal.

Despite George’s trouble and difficulty seeing clearly because of it, we explored the city, including the mosaics of Spanish Square, the buildings of Americas Square, the cathedral and the old streets around it. We also visited an orange grove in the Alcazar area.

On the Thursday we set off in the coach for Cordoba, stopping on the way in Ejica which also had a very big church or cathedral by the main square, which was full of locals standing or sitting around chatting and enjoying the sun.

We arrived in Cordoba where we were spending one night. It had a river, some narrow winding streets and a huge mosque, part of which had been converted into a Catholic cathedral. We were amazed at the sheer size of the mosque, the columns of which gave us the impression of being in a petrified forest. Some were very ornate and made of colored marble. Suddenly and rather disconcertingly you came into a very ornate Christian cathedral, completely at odds with the Moorish architecture of the rest of the building. From the outside the Christian bell tower dominated the mosque. It had been built around the mosque’s original minaret. Of course it was both religious and architectural sacrilege, with the result that the Cordoba mosque was neither one thing nor the other, but the Christian alterations had been done a long time ago so were themselves of some historical interest.

On the Friday we set off for Granada, dominated by the famous Alhambra high on a hill overlooking the city. We visited this palace, but were a little disappointed with it as it seemed rather plain.

We enjoyed exploring the city, and found a quiet area with a little stream running through it, as well as the main squares and big shops.

Our hotel room had a balcony, and we sat out there in the sunshine with snow-capped mountains in the background. We were taken up these mountains in the coach and visited the ski resort at the top. We watched the skiers piling into the cable cars and skiing down again. It was quite a new experience for us, but we didn’t feel tempted to have a go ourselves.

We drove back to Gibraltar via the coast and dreadful places like Torremolinos and Fuengirola. It think it was at the latter resort we stopped for breakfast at a huge hotel where you had to line up in separate queues for tea and coffee, toast, and boiled eggs. It was like the feeding of the 5,000, and this mass catering and the gray skyscraper slabs that dominated the resorts confirmed that we were right to avoid them like the plague, choosing the architecturally purer resorts of the Costa Brava instead. Llorret de Mar certainly had its share of tourist hotels and nightlife, but still looked and felt like a Catalan town, with only one building which could be described as a small ‘skyscraper’. Torremolinos and Fuengirola were just huge tourist resorts with nothing but skyscraper hotels, tourist shops and bars and apparently not a scrap of Spanish culture to be seen.

We arrived at the airport in Gibraltar with plenty of time to spare for our flight home, and whereas in most airports this is a boring time locked up in the departure area, with only the duty free shop to console you, here in Gibraltar we were free to stroll out of the terminal building, walk across the runway on the main road and go into Gibraltar town. We didn’t venture too far, but stopped at a Wimpy bar and had a snack and a drink before wandering leisurely back to the airport. Our fellow passengers were amazed when we told them we had strolled into town for a snack, whilst they had been huddled round the airport bar afraid to wander even out of the airport building.

We flew back home arriving in the early afternoon of Sunday, and as we arrived back in the depths of winter I could hardly believe I had been swimming in the Mediterranean just a week before, or that George had gotten badly sunburnt lying on the beach.

In late April I was off to Cyprus for a week with my mother.  George didn’t want to come, as he felt the island had little attraction for him. I strongly suspect a letter my father had once written about it not being a good idea my coming to Cyprus with my boyfriend had a lot to do with it.

My father had met George and got on well with him, even telling me he was very good for me. He knew the score back then, but later word had apparently gotten round his village in Cyprus that I was gay, which was beyond the pale in that society. I angrily told my dad I’d bring who I liked, and if the villagers knew I was gay he must have told them himself, which he admitted was true. That argument had been years before, but understandably George felt uncomfortable about coming with us. Anyway, after previous experiences on holiday with my mother, especially the recent Portuguese trip, George was quite happy to let me go on my second visit to Cyprus with her whilst he stayed at home.

My mother had never visited Cyprus although my dad was Greek-Cypriot. Plans to visit had fallen by the wayside for various reasons, not least their separation in 1951 and all that led up to it. The separation had, in fact, been precipitated by a planned visit to Cyprus. A friend told my mum that the holiday in Cyprus planned for the family in that year would be a one-way trip for my brother and myself, as my dad intended to bring us up in Cyprus so hadn’t bought us return tickets.

It was a pity my mother hadn’t come with me to Cyprus ten years earlier as my dad’s mother longed to meet her, and sadly died shortly after my first visit. They had corresponded by letter years before, my mother reporting to my grandmother the progress of my various operations as a child. Now my grandmother was gone so was one of the main motivations for my mother visiting Cyprus, so I think she embarked on the trip with mixed feelings.

She had only sporadic contact with my dad in the preceding 36 years, and while part of her wanted to see Cyprus and places she had heard about, part of her was very apprehensive.

We arrived to atrocious weather, which kept up half the week we were there. We stayed at a little hotel in Kato Paphos, a few blocks from the house where my dad lived with his former business partner and common law wife, Helen. We had a meal there once, and Helen tried to make my mother feel welcome, though she speaks very little English and my mother very little Greek. Needless to say the atmosphere was strained.

My dad lent me his car for the week, and I soon got the hang of driving again. We visited the Tombs of the Kings and mosaics in the Paphos area, and then I took my mum into the Troodos mountains. I had decided to take this more scenic route to Nicosia, the capital, but it proved disastrous because of the torrential rain.
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We could see very little scenery because of the weather, and my mother was terrified by the hairpin bends on mountainous roads too narrow in most places for two cars to pass, with a sheer drop on one side. We reached the tomb of Archbishop Makarios high on a mountain and I got out of the car and ran several hundred yards in pouring rain to visit it, but my mum stayed in the car. She said later she thought she might be stranded there forever, and had visions of me stumbling and falling off the mountain in the downpour.

I came back drenched, and we carried on. The roads got steadily worse and became rough mud tracks. We came across a Greek-Cypriot family whose car had broken down and was stuck in the mud. They spoke not a word of English, but they made quite clear they wanted a lift to Nicosia. As few cars were likely to be taking this route in such terrible conditions we could hardly refuse, and anyway we thought they could help with directions.

The man stayed with his car whilst an elderly woman in black and presumably her daughter sat in the back and helped direct us. We entered Nicosia by a totally unfamiliar route to me, and suddenly the two women demanded to be let out. We dropped them off to find we were heading straight for the Turkish sector, so no wonder they were in such a hurry to get out. We turned right to avoid the checkpoint and eventually I managed to find my dad’s block of flats. He had given me the keys to stay a couple of nights.

We got in to find there was no food in the place and we couldn’t get the stove working, so we ate in a nearby cafe. I managed to get the TV working, and left my mum watching that whilst I took a quick drive downtown. I just wanted to check out the sunken gardens by the walls of the Old Town to see if the gay scene I had discovered ten years before was still thriving. It wasn’t – there had obviously been a big clean-up and not a soul was about even though the weather in Nicosia was dry (we’d left the rain back in the mountains).
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I drove back to the flat, we watched a bit of TV and then went to bed. My mother refused to sleep in the big bedroom because she said it stunk of Helen’s scent, so I slept there and she had the smaller room.

Next day I drove my mother into Nicosia and we walked around the shops and the Old Town. Her shoes were hurting her, so we went into a shoe shop in the Old Town and bought some comfortable sandals. I remember feeling very embarrassed because as she took her shoes off her feet were black, but the shop assistant didn’t bat an eyelid. I don’t know if it was dirt from the streets or dye from her shoes, probably the latter in that heat.

We walked on up to the Green Line and looked into the UN Zone and the Turkish quarter beyond. Later we tried, as long planned, to visit that part of Nicosia which is the capital of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but I made a fatal mistake and we were refused entry.Â

Ten years before I had visited the Turkish part of Nicosia in what was then known as the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus. I had followed my dad’s instructions and stated that my father was English. This time I forgot, and as we entered the customs office on the Turkish side they asked one of us to fill in a form. If my mother had filled it in there would have been no problem, as only one in each party had do so, and only the person actually filling in the form had to state the nationality of his or her parents. My mother’s parents were both English.
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However my mother left the form for me to fill in, and foolishly I wrote that my dad was Greek-Cypriot. So, although we both had British passports, they wouldn’t let us in. Before leaving for Cyprus I had even been to the London travel office of the TRNC, which doubles as an unofficial ‘embassy’, and spoken to a high ranking official about my forthcoming visit and tried to get a visa in advance. I had told him my father was Greek-Cypriot, but that I was very sympathetic to the Turkish-Cypriots and thought the Greeks were to blame for the current situation. Even then it didn’t occur to me I was saying all the wrong things. I should have just walked up to the border and gone in as a British tourist like anyone else. The London official simply told me to apply for a visa at the border post.

That’s what comes of being a total outsider to the Turkish/Greek Cypriot mentalities of mutual distrust and hatred – being British I just accepted two equal Cypriot republics even if one was only recognized by Turkey, and didn’t realize the Turkish side had every reason to be suspicious of Greek-Cypriots trying to enter their zone. Since then the regulations were altered to allow non-Cypriot citizens with Greek-Cypriot parentage to visit the TRNC at their discretion.  On a later visit I was not even asked any awkward questions before being granted a visa. Later still in 2003 the borders were opened to most Cypriots living in Cyprus to visit the other republic, nearly 29 years after the closed border came into existence (although even before this Turkish Cypriots could unofficially slip into the Greek-Cypriot republic via a Turkish-Cypriot border post adjacent to the British Dhekelia sovereign base. The Greek-Cypriots had no jurisdiction at this border post. No Greek-Cypriot citizens could enter the Turkish-Cypriot republic before 2003 except on a few special occasions.)  In 2009 on a return visit I was pleased to see the borders between the two Cypriot republics were so easy to cross for everybody, including Cypriots. Just show your passport as you walk through the various checkpoints. We went on coach trips to both republics, crossing the Green Line without even showing our passports.

In 1987 my mother and myself took the fast motorway back to Paphos by way of Limassol, and on the way stopped off at Kolossi Castle and the ancient theater at Curium. We also stopped at a beach by Aphrodites’ birthplace and I went in for a dip, and nearly got my neck broken by the force of the huge waves which threw me right over.

Later in the week I took my mum up into the mountains again so she could appreciate their beauty in fine weather. We also visited Aphrodites’ Baths on the northwestern tip of Cyprus, stopping at Coral Bay on the way. This had been a deserted golden sandy beach ten years before, but was now packed with tourists. An airport had been built in the Paphos area in the intervening years which had totally altered the nature of Paphos itself and the surrounding area. Ten years before Kato (Lower) Paphos had been a little fishing town with a quiet harbor, but it was now full of discos, restaurants, hotels and was almost indistinguishable from Mediterranean resorts in Spain and elsewhere.

After visiting Aphrodites’ Baths, which is a little grotto with water running down into a pool, we visited my Uncle Filaktis and his second wife, Marie, in Polis. This was a very happy visit as my mum got on well with my dad’s brother. Sadly he died of a heart attack shortly after our visit, and his wife was heartbroken. She was in ill health herself with cancer and died a few years later.

We also visited other relations whilst in Cyprus, such as my dad’s other brother, Costas. His sister, Athena, was visiting her daughters in England at the time, but we visited her house and saw her husband Michael. My mum knew both of them as they had lived in London for many years. The house where they lived was the one where my father had been born, so this must have been as interesting for my mum as it was for me, even though the house had been altered quite a bit since then, although it was still very basic compared to many other houses in the village. It had no electricity, plumbing or sanitation before the War, and I think my mum was quite surprised after all the horror stories she had heard from Filaktis’ first wife about having to dig a hole in the field to go to the toilet, and sleeping on straw with the animals to find the house now had all these modern facilities (though only an outside flush toilet, no bathroom, and hot water only from a tap in the basement area. The house has since been fully modernized, I’m told, though I didn’t have an opportunity to visit in 2009, just passed it in a taxi.)

Whilst in the village we visited my grandparents’ grave, and were both shocked at the neglected state of it, and the fact that my poor grandmother had been interred with my grandfather (who had been the local priest) but nobody had bothered to alter the inscription to indicate she was also buried there. Such is the position of women in rural Greek-Cypriot society, even in death they are completely overshadowed by their husbands, though an inscription with her name was later added.

I must relate one other story about our visit to Cyprus. My father decided to take us for a day out, and he drove us to some monastery in the mountains. Now my dad has never been a religious man. He has had strong connexions with the Greek Orthodox Church both in London and Cyprus, giving lots of money to it and serving on committees, but at the same time he was an avowed atheist. The Church is a political as well as a religious animal in Cyprus, and my father used it to win influence, giving it money publicly whilst decrying its riches in private.

This hypocrisy was demonstrated when we all walked into a little church by the monastery, and my dad made a big show of crossing himself several times, and then kissing every icon in the church.

This was never part of the culture of myself or my mother. True I was christened in a Greek Orthodox cathedral in London, but we had always attended either the Anglican or Methodist churches as children.

My father was in a furious temper as we drove back. He picked on me, ignoring my mother’s similar misdemeanor, and accused me of entering the church like a tourist, with my hands clasped behind my back. He also said my brother and his wife were just as bad, which I suppose was some consolation.

We flew back home the first week in May. The weather had been much better the second half of the week, and I think on the whole my mother enjoyed the holiday and was glad we went. I had phoned George once or twice from the hotel in Paphos, but was so glad to see him again after our week apart.      Â

In early July George and myself set off on our second visit to Yugoslavia, this time to stay in Dubrovnik for two weeks.

We stayed at the Hotel Tirena in the modern Babin Kuk complex we had visited the year before. Then it had seemed that there was plenty of entertainment going on each night, but staying there for two weeks gave a quite different impression. We got to know the exact time by the numbers the band outside our window were singing, since it was exactly the same repertoire each night. Of course we could wander along the pedestrian walkways to the other end of the complex and hear another band going through their regular routine for a change, but that was about as varied as it got. Nevertheless we really enjoyed this holiday.

We spent a lot of time on the picturesque Babin Kuk beach with its mountainous scenery, and also visited other beaches in Dubrovnik. We spent quite a bit of time in the Lapad area, which is the modern port and shopping district. A woman there used to feed wild cats fish every day. We went on a boat trip in a little craft from this port, and also had drinks on the roof of a department store overlooking the port, with mountains beyond.

We had timed our visit to coincide with the Dubrovnik Festival again. We had done most of our traveling the previous year, but we went on a one day trip south through Montenegro to the Albanian border.

It was not a very memorable tour, not least because a recent earthquake had damaged Kotor and some of the other places en route. We stopped at a village called Ston on the side of a mountain, and walked round its walls. Since part of the walls are in open countryside with a bit of imagination you could believe you were on a very small section of the Great Wall of China. Many of the buildings in Kotor were shored up for support after the earthquake and some streets were closed, but after a look around we got back on the coach and climbed up into the mountains until Kotor and its inlet were laid out like a map far below us.

We headed for Titograd for our lunch stop, but saw nothing of this city evidently important enough to be named after the late leader of Yugoslavia. We were taken to a hotel restaurant in the suburbs for a mediocre meal then straight out again without seeing the center of the city at all.

We then headed further south for Lake Shkoder, the southern part of which is in Albania as is the town of Shkoder. The lake and the area around seemed very eerie, as did the locals. Perhaps it was psychological, knowing we were heading straight for the most mysterious country in Europe – a Stalinist backwater. For me it was a bit like those Hammer horror films as travelers entered Transylvania – very weird and a little scary. It was almost as if we had left planet Earth and entered a parallel universe.

The lake was so still and silent, and seemed to be covered in green leaves and slime. We climbed high into the mountains on the western side of the lake, still heading south, through wooded areas on narrow mountain roads on which the only other traffic was ancient looking horse-drawn carts driven and ridden by people in very strange looking garb, presumably some kind of national or peasant costume. We assumed these were ethnic Albanians, and the sense of foreboding and expectation was intense. In the event it all ended in a big anti-climax.

Suddenly the road turned sharply to the right to go round the mountain, and the coach stopped. We were invited to get out and look into Albania from the edge of this mountain road.

How far we were from the actual border I have no idea, but certainly too far away to see any border fences or observation posts. It all looked so tame and ordinary after the mysterious, sinister mountainous wooded lakeside area we had just come through. Below us was just gently undulating peaceful countryside – we might just as well have been on a hill overlooking Surrey or Kent. Even the eerie Lake Shkoder was now out of sight way over to our left.

When we asked our guide where the border was she unhelpfully said: ‘Where the minarets of the mosques stop’. Enver Hoxha had, of course, ordered them all destroyed in this officially atheistic state. We were far too high up to see any detail, but there were minarets dotted around for some distance, so we were obviously a mile or so from the border at least. I could see a winding river in the distance, which I later ascertained from looking at the map was in Albania, but it was all a huge disappointment and certainly not worth a full day’s coach trip. At least they could have taken us right up to the border after coming all that way.

We drove back north via the coastal road, stopping at Rezevici Monastery on the way. The monks here made some kind of alcoholic spirit which they sold to tourists, and we were all given a sample. George peeked into the kitchen and saw the supposedly celibate monks apparently had nubile female helpers, and he remarked that with the abundance of very high proof alcohol and pretty young females the brothers seemed to lead a pretty good, worldly and distinctly un-monk-like life.

We also stopped briefly outside Budva, another town badly damaged by the recent earthquake, and at a spot overlooking the island town of Sveti Stefan on the way back. We had been up at the crack of dawn, had a lousy lunch and a very long tiring day on the road, seen very little of interest only to get back very late in the evening to a cold supper left for us in the deserted hotel dining room, so we were not very happy.

However, on the whole we did enjoy or second holiday in Yugoslavia, and spent most of it in the Dubrovnik area, again visiting the nearby town of Cavtat and its hilltop mausoleum designed by Mestrovic, whose sculptures we had so admired the year before in Split.

We had a lovely room in the Hotel Tirena, and were very sorry to leave it because it had a little garden with a hedge all round and a tree in the middle. We used to sit out here sometimes enjoying the sun. We also ‘adopted’ a little stray cat which lived in the bushes just outside the hotel, and we used to feed it tins of sardines by the hotel entrance. When I read years later that the Hotel Tirena was one of those badly damaged by shelling in the civil war I just broke down and cried, thinking of the little cat we fed and our peaceful little garden, now possibly both destroyed by wicked, evil men fighting over their silly little border squabbles. Hundreds of thousands massacred by all sides, all in the name of nationalism and independence, and in the end they’ll all have to come together in the European Union for their economic survival.  A beautiful country, Yugoslavia and its people, were torn apart by senseless war and nationalism, and the same happened in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.

In November we went on another long weekend to Amsterdam, visiting Bruges on the way back. This was a particularly memorable visit as we had a likeable woman courier on the coach who was rather camp. We also went by our favorite ferry company, Sally Line, and enjoyed their smorgasbord restaurant.

In Amsterdam we went on the inevitable canal trip, and also visited the gay monument. Of course we wouldn’t ever visit Amsterdam without calling on our friends, the stray cats on the Poesenboot (the cats’ boat) moored on one of the canals.

The weather was cold, wet and miserable in Bruges, where we stopped on the way back, but we did a little tour, bought some delicious Belgian chocolates and had a coffee in the main square.

At Christmas we were off with our friend Andre to Switzerland by way of Brussels and Luxemburg. Leaving on December 23rd, we arrived in Brussels for overnight, and strolled round the main square where they had a Christmas tree and an impressive crib. We also looked round the red light district, and discovered it was a much smaller, tamer version of Amsterdam with the girls sitting in the windows. Our Brussels hotel suite was spacious and luxurious with color television in the lounge and a separate bedroom, with electric candle-light fittings on the wall, and our windows overlooked a main street. Outside the illuminations included a skyscraper with lights left on in the windows to form a gigantic Christmas tree.

We made a brief stop in Luxemburg City, but it was too overcast and misty to see much. We drove on through France and into Switzerland to Lucerne, where we were stopping for two nights.

On Christmas Day we went on a boat trip on Lake Lucerne, and visited the famous lion rock carving in a cliff face. Andre was feeling under the weather so didn’t get off the boat to look at this unusual sculpture. He retired to his bed for the rest of the day when we got back to the hotel, and didn’t even come down to Christmas dinner, which was fairly ordinary and nothing like an English Yuletide feast.

This was the first of several holidays we spent abroad at Christmas. George disliked the festive season and all the hype, not least because his mother had died at that time of year, so we started to go abroad to get away from it all. It usually worked out one year abroad, and the next year at home so I could be with my mother at Christmas.

In Switzerland, I also went on a trip to Engelberg and up the cable car to the top of Mount Titlis on Christmas Day. It was certainly very Christmassy seeing all that snow on the mountains.

Next day Andre was feeling better as we headed west for Berne, stopping briefly on the way in a picturesque Alpine village called Brienz. We lunched in Berne, and had plenty of time to explore this fascinating old city with its shops and famous live bears, living in an enclosure by the bridge across the river. We were very impressed with the arcaded old main shopping street, with its clock tower, statues, etc..

We arrived in Lausanne for our overnight stop in darkness. Andre was determined to have a look around the big shops before they closed, so we made a frantic dash to the big department stores. Next day, the 27th, we headed north through France for Paris, where we had another two nights before returning to London on the 29th.

We loved the Christmas decorations in the Champs Elysee, and vowed to come back again at Christmas. We never did. We booked up for Christmas 1991 over a year in advance, but George never lived to see this trip, so I went with my mother instead and we lit a candle for George in Sacre Coeur, a church we always visited on our Paris trips.

We also visited it on this occasion, perched on a hill in the Montmarte area, and  Notre Dame, the Paris opera and other places on the usual tourist route. We only had one full day, so were limited by time. Andre and I were at the time learning French in the same class, and were using a book which dealt with fictitious characters living in a street in Paris. We decided to go and look at this real street and see how it compared with the drawings in our book. It was very similar, and at least we visited a part of the city none of us knew very well.

Our hotel was a modern skyscraper block (where four years later I stayed with my mother), but the room was tiny, especially when compared with our suite in Brussels. We went down to the Reception and complained that there were only two single beds for three people, and they patiently explained that the third bed pulled out from under one of the other beds. We went back up and discovered this was true, but when all three beds were down there wasn’t an inch of room between them to stand in; the room was filled wall to wall with beds.

We took Andre to our favorite French self-service cafeteria chain, the Flunch, which we first discovered in Nice. The walls were decorated with framed posters, including those advertising George’s favorite French films, Marcel Pagnol’s ‘Marius Trilogy’. George used smaller reproductions of these in his collage at home. He wrote the BBC begging them to screen the films so he could ‘see them one more time before he died’. I thought this sounded very melodramatic, but four years later he was dead. He got a sympathetic letter back, and indeed the films were shown one Christmas when we were away, but we managed to obtain videos from someone where I worked, so George and I got to see these marvelous three films together.

In the Flunch we had a very good meal, and then Andre treated us all to delicious ice-cream sundaes from their dessert counter. Andre was delighted with this little gem of a self-service we had introduced him to, as usually he made do with McDonalds when abroad.

We arrived back in London to see the old year out. We had certainly traveled abroad a lot in 1987: I went to Cyprus with my mother, and George and I visited Gibraltar, Spain, Yugoslavia, Belgium (twice), Holland, Luxemburg, Switzerland and France. 9 countries on 5 separate trips – it was almost as if we were trying to pack as much in as possible in the few years together we had left, but it was not planned like that, at least not by myself. In 1987 George had no symptoms whatsoever as far as I remember, and with current medical skills, had no real cause to believe he wouldn’t live to a ripe old age despite the heart trouble in his family.
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In January of 1988 there was a gay march through central London. I believe this may have been the demonstration which so disgusted us we stopped going on gay marches after that. For Gay Pride we would just turn up at Kennington Park for the Pride Festival and to see the march arrive. It was the silly and downright offensive slogans and songs shouted and sung by some militant exhibitionists which made us so angry. Here we were trying to win over the general public, and these idiotic people were shouting out obscenities just meant to shock.

Heterosexual people don’t go on marches and shout out in great detail in front of tourists and children what they get up to in bed, so why should homosexuals, particularly if we are trying to combat prejudice and win over a hostile public? Amongst the ‘brilliant’ political slogans being shouted out by these overgrown school girls and boys on this march were: ‘We lick labia, we suck dick’. George and I were ashamed to be associated with such childish and offensive behavior. Doing such things in the privacy of your home or a gay club or cruising area at night is one thing, shouting  it out in Piccadilly Circus is quite another.

The other slogans were just plain daft: ‘We’re here, we’re queer and we’re NOT going shopping’ was the favorite. I remember one middle-aged queen denying she was going shopping so emphatically, emphasizing it with clenched fists and real feeling, that one would be excused for thinking she had just uttered some Earth-shattering statement. George and I could only agree with the first two words of the slogan: we were definitely there, though half-wished we weren’t; we were most definitely not queer but gay, having fought prejudice and offensive terms like that for years; and whether we were going shopping after the march or not seemed totally irrelevant. We’d much rather have said or preferably sung a message to the effect that we were here, gay and went shopping, watched Coronation Street, loved our cat and did all the ordinary boring little things everyone else did.

In February we went to Amsterdam for yet another long weekend, taking our friend Rose with us. We were staying in an hotel near the Rijks Museum, and we showed Rose all our favorite Amsterdam sights, including the Poesenboot with all its stray cats. Rose loved that as much as we did, and we all gave a donation for this unique floating cat sanctuary. We also visited the gay monument, and showed Rose the red light district.

We went to our favorite self-service cafeteria in a department store in one of the main pedestrian shopping streets, and as George and I sat down Rose came rushing up to our table straight from the red light district and proceeded to excitedly tell us what he had seen a little Pekinese dog doing to its nude lady owner in one of the illuminated windows, whilst crowds of men stood round watching. Rose had never been to Amsterdam before and just couldn’t believe it, but it was all too much for a poor woman on the next table who was put right off her meal by Rose’s lurid description, and got up and walked out, leaving her meal unfinished. It was the second time one of our friends had this effect. Our friend Stanley had once driven away a diner from a pub behind Marble Arch by describing a scene where he was entertaining a gentleman whose dog decided to get in on the action. Stan had taken elocution lessons, and announced in a loud, over-correct, precise voice: ‘I will NOT have a dog licking my BUM’. In Amsterdam, as George pointed out to Rose, everyone spoke English, so the reaction of the woman to Rose’s outburst was quite understandable.

In the evening we set out to go clubbing, and caught a tram into the center. As we walked towards our favorite gay club and were telling Rose about a gay cinema and all the other clubs in the vicinity, he suddenly announced that he had left all his money in the hotel room. George was absolutely furious. We had arranged all the holiday and made sure Rose changed enough money into guilders, this was our big night out in Amsterdam and he had not brought any money with him.

Fortunately, most of the clubs in Amsterdam are free or very cheap, so George lent Rose enough for the evening. Next day Rose spent some on magazines such as you could never buy in England at the time. We advised him to post them back to England to avoid trouble with the Customs. Even so it was advisable to address them to a non-existent person in case of trouble.

Why on Earth British Customs should bother about material for and by consenting adults bought perfectly legally across the counter in a fellow European Community country we could not understand. It just didn’t make sense. Coming back to the UK from almost any country in Eastern Europe, or from New York, San Francisco or Sydney, was like stepping back 100 years into a Victorian time-warp where the nanny state looked after the nation’s morals, not because it knew best, but because it was an easy way to get convictions, and so much less trouble than trying to catch real criminals.  (At last in the early 21st century Britain’s pornography laws have been brought into line with other civilized countries with the introduction of the R18 classification for flims/videos/DVDs.)

We had a nice break in Amsterdam, and were sorry to leave our cozy, curious L-shaped room (a rectangular room with a very narrow, deep alcove only wide enough for one person leading to the window) and return home. Another year of travels had started. Next month we were off to Italy.

It was exactly four weeks later we flew from Gatwick to Milan airport to begin our tour of Italy. We saw nothing of Milan itself, but boarded a coach headed straight for Venice.

It had been a long while since we had visited Italy, but as we made our first meal stop en route we discovered with a shock how much had changed in the intervening years. From being one of the cheapest countries in Europe, it had become one of the most expensive. We just couldn’t believe the price of the food in the cafeteria; about three times what we had expected based on previous visits. Luckily, we had brought extra money with us, but we had to be careful since prices were now much higher than at home instead of much lower.

We arrived at our ‘Venice’ hotel in darkness. It was isolated in a country lane on the mainland, with no sign of any neighboring buildings let alone a city. Everything for miles around was pitch black. We discovered there was a bus into Venice, but it would involve a walk along the unlit country lane to the nearest bus stop.

Of course the tour coach took us into Venice the next day, and we soon found out about the local buses. Venice itself has no road traffic, but buses, coaches and motor transport all cross the lagoon bridge and stop at the entrance to this unique city on the water, within a few minutes’ walk of the Grand Canal water-bus stops.

Of course we had been to Venice before, but we made return visits to our favorite spots and the little self service restaurant by the Grand Canal which we always visited. We noticed on this trip that dark green overcoats were very much in fashion for Venetian men – St Mark’s Square was full of them. Years later we used to see British Government Minister Douglas Hurd on the TV news wearing a similar coat, and guessed he must have gone on a shopping spree during a visit to Venice.

After two nights we were headed south to Rome, stopping at the tiny Republic of San Marino on the way. This was to have been one of the highlights of the holiday for us, since it was one of the few corners of Europe we had never actually visited before.

To our great disappointment our stopover in San Marino turned out to be only a one-hour lunch stop, and we had to forego lunch and dash around like mad things to try and see as much of the hill-top town of San Marino and its view of the surrounding statelet as possible.

Since we wanted to post our cards here with San Marino stamps, we had to spend some of this precious hour queuing up in the post office behind other tourists with a similar idea.

We arrived in Rome later that day, again staying in an hotel on the outskirts of the city. I believe this is the occasion we stayed in an hotel in another isolated lane, with a gipsy encampment opposite. When one of the tourist’s cameras went missing the poor gipsies were blamed, though there was such high security at the hotel, including security guards and an electronic gate, George and I felt the gipsies most unlikely culprits.

Unknown to us, this was to be our last visit together to this city, and we again saw The Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Vittoria Emmanuel Monument and St Peter’s. This time George took me up to the dome of the latter, which involved a walk across the roof. I had never been up there before, but George had when he visited Rome with Eric some time before. From this vantage point you had excellent views of St Peter’s Piazza and the Vatican gardens at the rear.

Our coach also took us up one of the Seven Hills of Rome for a view over the city. On our own we discovered some highly original and unusual sculptures on a little island in the river. The artist had a studio workshop by the bridge, and his or her dramatic elongated figures cast in black metal made a huge impression on us. We leant through the fence to take as many pictures as we could, because the studio was not open to the public, at least not when we were there.

After three nights in Rome, we headed north again to Florence by way of Pisa, a town we had not visited before. This was another highlight for us, and we were lucky to be able to climb up the famous leaning tower, which was a very eerie sensation. A short while later it was closed to the public for several years till the foundations were made more secure in order to halt the increasing tilt. Like Venice, Rome, Pompeii, Paris, Barcelona and other places we’d visited together, I visited Florence and Pisa again with my mother years after George died, on day tours from cruise ships.

We took lots of pictures of the leaning tower and the accompanying buildings, and some from the top of the tower. Although not very high, if you suffered from vertigo it would not be a good idea to climb up it because the tilt and lack of any safety railings on most floors made you feel you could easily slide off.

Later we arrived in Signa, a town outside Florence which was to be our base for the last two nights. Again we felt cheated, since we had expected to be in Florence, but in actual fact we were better off staying right outside Florence than if we had been in the suburbs. There was an excellent train service right into the center of Florence from Signa, which only took a few minutes.

Signa itself was divided by the river from Lastra a Signa, and was quite a pleasant little place to stay. The hotel had a self service ‘eat as much as you like’ restaurant (meals were included in the price of our holiday), and when we arrived a party of American students were making absolute pigs of themselves piling up their plates with salads and pastas over and over again. We certainly indulged ourselves, but not to that extent. Of course for the Americans it was their normal food intake, but not to anyone else in the world. One reason so many Americans are grossly overweight and their clothes outsize.

There was a lot of reconstruction work going on in central Florence, and some of the old buildings were covered in scaffolding. But we revisited the cathedral and surrounding area, and crossed the famous bridge with buildings on it and visited a market on the other side. Near there we discovered a pleasant park with views over the city, some attractive gardens with fountains, statues and an ornamental lake, and a delightful ‘Gaudiesque’ art nouveau grotto in one corner of the park.

The Sunday after we arrived was my birthday, and this also was the day our coach took us back to Milan airport for the plane home. It has been a good week’s holiday, and there was another trip abroad to come the following month.

Three weeks after returning from Italy we flew off from Luton airport to Lloret de Mar in Spain. We had been there once before in the late 1970s, but we were to visit it many times in our last few years together. But first a little about our home, where we did spend some time in between our foreign trips, theater and cinema visits, trips around the country and to see friends.

Around this time, the late 1980s, George started his collages which still decorate two rooms of our flat, and a large storeroom/cupboard. He got the idea from when he used to work at Amnesty International and decorated the office with theater posters.
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George spent hours on these collages, and constantly changed them. The one in the toilet had a movie theme, and the one in our music/writing room/spare bedroom had a musical theme. I will let George describe this hobby in his own words in an article he wrote when a TV production company came to film the collages in late 1990 for Channel 4’s gay ‘Out’ series:

‘Creating Collages:

‘When we first moved into our present flat, all the walls were newly painted white, which was rather clinical. Since neither of us are adept at interior decorating, wallpapering or painting, I decided to create some contrast with a collage in the spare room which we use to play our music in. Since I thought it would be a good idea to cover the wall with pop/musical images which reflected each of our musical tastes and the artists we admire, I bought two books containing reproductions of some of the most popular and artistic record sleeves to start filling the wall-space, along with actual record album sleeves, postcards, photos and images/designs with a mainly musical theme I titled “Fame”. I cut out and collected advertisements for records and pictures from magazines which appealed to our type of tastes.

‘I continuously add to and alter the walls according to new material I come across in junk mail ads or second-hand shops. Pictures can easily be taken off and affixed with Blu-Tak. This also alleviates any boredom from constant images and creates an element of surprise and change. I also try to create corner sections with a particular theme/connection/artist, e.g. drag queens of the past and present on the gay scene such as Marc Fleming, Mrs Shufflewick, Dockyard Doris, Lily Savage, Bloolips, etc. (Danny La Rue is not included). There are also screen and stage legends who inspire and resemble drag queens rather than women by their outrageous attire, such as Carmen Miranda, Mae West, Dorothy Squires, etc. Also artists with a huge gay following, such as Judy Garland, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Elton John, Jimmy Somerville, Boy George, etc.. I have also tried to cover catholicism and diversity of our wide taste in music from every decade from the 20s-80s including jazz, rock’n’roll, c&w, classical, sixties/seventies psychedelia sounds (Stones, Beatles, Pink Floyd, etc.), to the pop stars recording today such as Billy Idol, Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, etc..

‘It is an inexpensive and ideal way to add design to a wall if you are useless at wallpapering, etc.. Also it is ideal camouflage if a wall has cracks or stains to conceal the offending sections with a strategically-placed picture/photo. I like to add balance by using contrasting colours and shapes to create a more artistic whole and to leave space between each image so that a cluttered claustrophobic impression is avoided. (I once saw a photo of the collage that Joe Orton’s lover created in their cell-like bedsitter room, and I felt it must have added to his deep depression and paranoia, since its overall impression reminded me of a Gothic nightmare, with every inch of space crammed with overlapped historical pictures (stolen from Islington library books).

‘The second collage I created in our flat is in the loo. It came to me completely by accident when I first put up the now legendary anti-nuclear war poster which portrayed Thatcher and Reagan as Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable look-alikes, based on the original poster for “Gone with the Wind”. A friend visiting from Poland who was unaware of the source/connection of this piece of political/cinematic parody gave me the idea of purchasing a postcard of the original film poster to put underneath the large one so that others would be in no doubt of the similarities. Whilst in the shop I saw some other postcards from films I liked/admired and the idea of a cinematic collage came to me. Since we are both film buffs as are all our friends it seemed ideal to collect some photos, postcards, and posters to illustrate our love of movies old and new. Again junk mail, adverts from TV and movie magazines containing photos of videos and films for sale provided free material to use, as well as a second-hand book of 30s posters I found in a local Oxfam shop for the bargain price of £2. Again I tried to create sections where possible with continuity and recurrent themes, such as a corner of Divine movies, Marilyn pics, Dietrich posters, etc.. When a friend sent a birthday card of the gay cult U.S. painting of Montgomery Clift and James Dean affectionately cuddling/comforting each other, I used it as a centrepiece to surround it with James Dean movie postcards and cut-outs of the allegedly gay lovers. I have given this cinematic collage the theme title/slogan “Shit With The Stars” much to the consternation of my partner’s mother who has a hang-up about seeing four-letter words in print yet paradoxically uses them in her everyday oral vocabulary.

‘In both collages there are touches of humour, such as the placing of Dolly Parton’s boobs next to a Pink Floyd LP sleeve containing a cow with huge udders. The Divine single sleeve “Twisting The Night Away” is next to an album by “Twisted Sister”, and a small picture of an album called “‘This Is Why You’re Overweight” under an image of a huge chocolate egg: whilst adding a final suggestive pop-artist painting of Divine’s legs straddling an elephant’s trunk between her legs as the ultimate phallic symbol. Some of the placing is so subtle it needs a conducted tour, or careful study to discover the connecting themes.
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‘Again I alter/change pieces as I come across new material or dispose of old pictures because they have become tatty or tiring. It is a rather therapeutic occupation which prevents boredom or depression taking over, like creating your own giant jigsaw using apparently disparate pieces that eventually join/fuse together into a collective whole on the wall (pardon the pun).

‘The inspiration for my first collage came to me when I worked at Amnesty International. On first taking over the office allocated to me, the walls were completely covered with posters and images about torture, the death penalty, and other human rights abuses being inflicted on prisoners of conscience throughout the world. Partly because I felt the posters were preaching to the already converted members of Amnesty, and because I was continually telecommunicating press releases, Urgent Action case-sheets on the horrors inflicted by inhuman regimes, I felt I didn’t need to be surrounded by spectres of political dictators looking down on me during my working day. So I replaced them with theatre playbills (free from theatre foyers and booking agents), film poster postcards, photos of art and architecture that I liked or admire, etc.. It soon became a special event for all new staff/volunteers/visitors to be shown round my office to admire the artistic, theatrical and cinematic effects. I recommend anyone to alter boring workplace walls with images that reflect their personality and tastes. All you need are a pair of scissors, Blue-Tak and of course the actual material, which you can find in magazines, Sunday supplements, advertisements, second-hand book and record shops, etc.. So if you want an alternative decor/design that is neither affluent, piss-elegant, expensive or pretentious, I suggest you conjure up something along these lines. We spend so many hours of our lives in our working and domestic environment that we should create a collection of images we can identify with and which reflects our personalities and tastes. Why surround ourselves or stare at blank walls or inane repetitious wallpaper patterns which after a period have the hypnotic/hallucinatory effect known in psychology/psychiatry as the Rorschach test when suggestive patients see butterflies or boobs in ink-blurbs.’

Well, having caught up on the collages with which George decorated two rooms and a cupboard of our home, on to our Spanish holiday in Lloret. Early on a Monday in April we flew off from Luton Airport to Lloret de Mar. Our previous visit had been ten years before at the end of a coach tour of southeastern Spain including Andorra and Catalonia. However during this holiday a decade later we fell in love with Lloret, so much we returned a few months later and then went back every year.

The reason we liked it so much was that it summed up what both of us liked about holidays. I liked the beach and swimming, and also city sightseeing. George liked city sightseeing, shops and a lively atmosphere. Barcelona, with its fantastic architecture by Gaudi and others, was only an hour or so away by bus or train, and Lloret itself was a lively, tourist orientated town which nevertheless retained a Spanish or Catalonian flavor. There were old narrow streets still inhabited by locals, an old church with colorful mosaics on its roof, and the narrow main shopping streets had atmosphere.

It was not an artificial resort like Magaluf, Benidorm or Torremolinos with huge gray skycraper hotel blocks. Added to this there was beautiful countryside around, especially on the short bus ride north to the picturesque resort of Tossa de Mar. Most gay people headed for Sitges, south of Barcelona, but we deliberately avoided gay resorts, with the exception of Amsterdam and big cities which had a thriving gay life like New York, San Francisco, Paris and Sydney. It was too much of a problem for George who needed a large supply of amphetamines to enjoy or even cope with the gay scene.

Although George never learned to swim, we spent considerable time on the beach, listening to our music cassettes through individual Walkman-type players (we didn’t really share the same tastes in music). It was anyway too cold in April for swimming, which was one reason we decided to make a return trip in September. Another reason was the place had an out-of-season feel in April. Many of the bars were not yet open for the summer, but we liked the atmosphere and the place so much we felt it would be worth coming back five months later. I think George felt guilty because I couldn’t get any swimming in and so promised we would come back when the Mediterranean had warmed up a bit. After that we always came in September, when most of the families with schoolchildren had stopped coming and the water was lovely and warm after months of summer sunshine.

We stayed at the Hotel Garbi Park, part of a complex of hotels with the name ‘Garbi’ in their title. It was just yards from the main road leading from the bus station to the sea, with the almost dried-up canal running down the center of the street. Apparently it was more impressive in winter and filled up with rainwater from the surrounding hills.

We went on a one-day coach trip north of Barcelona to the mountain-top monastery at Montserrat. It was a lovely sunny day, and we had a cheerful Catalonian tour guide who kept coming out with phrases like ‘okie-dokie’, even referring to his coach as the ‘okie-dokie bus’. Montserrat was a huge rock rising out of the plain, and right near the top was perched the buildings which made up the monastery. The rockface towered on two sides, and the area where the monastery was situated narrowed down to a sort of wilderness-covered gorge at one end. The other two sides gave on to magnificent views of nearby hills, the plain and a river winding far below.

During the coach journey to Montserrat our guide had told us about the legend of the ‘Black Madonna’ in the church attached to the monastery. Tourists were invited to file past this statue and make a wish. The guide swore blind that wishes often came true, whatever the religious beliefs of the person praying or wishing. We joined the queue and passed by the statue, and I made a secret wish that George would find a steady job and be happy. He was at the time unemployed and beginning to despair.

Much later (it may have been when we returned in September) George and I sat on a seat by a path overlooking the sea beneath Lloret castle and I confessed I had made this wish to the Black Madonna. George was annoyed, and said he had never had any luck since I made the wish. I think he felt it was superstitious and wrong, especially as I was not a Catholic or even a Christian.

Nevertheless I respect all religions, recognizing each one is an attempt at explaining reality and imparting a moral code, and that all religions contain elements of the truth. Unfortunately, organized religion is also the cause of much of the trouble in the world. Pity Christianity in particular doesn’t follow the teachings of its founder, who was a very great spiritual teacher.

I find it hard to believe the Black Madonna or my wish for George’s happiness in useful employment could have brought bad luck, but sad to say the wish did not immediately come true, though George did eventually find another job.

Whilst in Lloret we discovered a supermarket near the hotel where we could buy, among other things, extremely cheap alcoholic drinks. There was plonk at about fifty pence a liter in cardboard containers (on one trip we took some of these home in our suitcase, and one of the boxes of red wine leaked making a terrible mess. Everything had to be bleached to try to get the stains out.)

There was also locally made gin with the most extraordinary names. I have a photo of George holding up his favorite because it was the cheapest. It was taken on our balcony overlooking the Co-op supermarket where we bought it, and depicts George smiling with a glass of gin in one hand, holding the bottle in the other and pointing to the label reading: ‘Green Fish Gin’. This is one reason we were so very close, we shared a similar philosophy in life and hated piss-elegance and snobbery in all its forms.  We both had an eye for a bargain, and delighted in the thought of how horrified many people would be that we could swig down a cheap gin called ‘Green Fish’ at three or four pounds a liter.

We paid at least one visit to Barcelona and made a point of visiting as many of Gaudi’s buildings as possible. We even got on the roof of one, the fantastic ‘Casa Mila’ or ‘La Pedrera’. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of our lives, to be several stories above the Barcelona streets in a Fantasyland as weird and wonderful as the Land of Oz. We were surrounded by chimney-pots which looked like weird faces, molded windows, canopies, balconies and arches. The roof was not normally open to the public, we simply happened to be there at the right time. After George’s death I was again at the right place at the right time to visit the roof of another Gaudi building, the ‘Guell Palace’ just off The Ramblas. It was much smaller than the ‘Casa Mila’ but only slightly less fantastic and impressive.
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Of course the most fantastic roof of all is that of the ‘Casa Batillo’ shaped like a dragon’s back, and impossible to visit because of its sloping shape, but we visited the building once again and went inside the front door for a quick look. On a subsequent occasion we ventured up the stairs, but unfortunately none of the Gaudi buildings were permanently open to the general public, nor were most included in guided tours. Yet so many foreign tourists come to see the unique art-nouveau Gaudi architecture a special ‘Gaudi tour’ would surely pay off. (Years later some of these Gaudi masterpieces, including the Pedrera roof, were permanently opened to the public.)

As it was we had to journey by subway to the northwestern suburbs to visit the Guell pavilions, and even then could only get close to one of the pavilions and the fantastic wrought-iron gate with its sculptured dragon, having to glimpse the other pavilion from a distance.

We also visited the colorful ‘Casa Vicens’ in the northern suburbs and made a return visit to the wonderful Guell Park a little further northeast. Of course we again visited Gaudi’s most famous, still not even half completed mammoth work, The Sagrada Familia church.

We very much wanted to also visit the Guell Colony, a church outside Barcelona to the northwest, but it entailed a difficult train journey and we did not have time in the end. The various Gaudi buildings are so inaccessible and often closed to the public when you do reach them, that we really felt a Gaudi tour was desperately needed. It was almost as if London’s most interesting tourist sights, Buckingham Palace, The Tower of London, St Paul’s, Tower Bridge and The Houses of Parliament, were scattered in suburbia unpublicized and largely unvisited by tourists, and all closed to the public anyway.

On either this or subsequent visits to Lloret we discovered a favorite cafe and a favorite bar. The cafe was a short walk from our hotel in a side street, and was useful if we wanted a quick snack, although we got our meals at the hotel included in the price. George nicknamed the rather large man who ran the cafe ‘Big Eggo’ after the old Beano comic character because as we were sitting there one day he saw the man lift a fried egg from the hotplate with the spatula, let it slide into his mouth and then gulp it down whole. Unfortunately I had my back to the counter so missed this amazing display. After that we called the cafe ‘Big Eggo’s’.

The bar we named the Cafe Berlin, though it was in fact across the road from the real Cafe Berlin at a little crossroads on a square near where we had stayed on our first visit to Lloret in 1978. It was largely frequented by British tourists, and often featured a rather plump English singer called Sabrina. The bar owner appeared to us to be gay, but we could have been mistaken. It was a good place for a cheap evening’s entertainment.

A week after arriving in Lloret, we flew back to Luton, having made our minds to return in September. Despite being early Spring and too cold for swimming, it had been a lovely holiday.
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In the middle of May I went on my very first Rock’n’Roll Weekender, staying with my friend Charlie and some of his friends on a caravan holiday camp site near Weymouth. Charlie and his mates worked on the railway, and were all much younger than me.

We met at Waterloo and traveled down by train together. Besides Charlie and myself there were two Anglo-Indians, one of whom was later in the fatal car crash which killed Charlie. There were also two beautiful blond brothers whom I fancied like crazy. Ian I already knew, but his younger brother turned out to be even more gorgeous. It was all I could do to keep my hands off them both, especially as they went around most of the time with their shirts off. Sadly, Ian has since died after being involved in another fatal car crash which left him in a coma for months.

It was a good weekend and I really enjoyed it. Unknown to me it was to be one of the last times I saw Charlie alive, and certainly the last chance I had to sit down and talk with him. One night when the others were out or asleep, Charlie and I sat talking till the early hours. He would have talked all night, but eventually I said I was tired and went to bed. I wish now we had talked all night for I never got the chance again. He was a quiet, gentle man who liked his drink, did a bit of speed, loved Blues music as well as rock’n’roll and had a big black woman as a girlfriend. He also doted on his two children by Angel, and took them fishing. This was another hobby of his, though he told me that weekend he felt sorry for the fish. I think it was sitting by the river or the sea he liked more than the actual fishing. Charlie and Angel were never actually married, and had split up some time ago.

During that weekend things sometimes got a little wild. At one time all the others rushed to the caravan window to look at some pretty girl who was passing, and they remarked that I was the only one who remained seated and did not take any interest. They all knew I was gay, and of course if they didn’t this confirmed it.

On the Saturday night Ian and his brother stripped to their underpants, put on bed sheets and said they were going out to look for a ‘Toga Party’. We all went out trooping from caravan to caravan listening for sounds of a party, Ian and his brother knocking on several doors without success. In the end we gatecrashed one little ‘party’, which is to say there were a few people sitting around drinking. After about five minutes the people in the caravan said it was a ‘gay party’ in what I suspect was a desperate effort to get us to leave, which we did, though I was of course then intrigued and wanted to stay.

So there were no parties, but Ian and some of the others got very drunk nevertheless. One night they all passed out and I couldn’t find anywhere to sleep. Ian’s younger brother had passed out on their double bed, so I crept in beside him. Nothing happened, but there were a few knowing glances in the morning. I had a very good excuse though, because it was the only available bed/sofa on which I could have slept.

Meal times were very strange because the Anglo-Indians were cooking curries on the caravan stove, and when they’d finished Charlie was cooking yams and West Indian food. I think Ian and his brother lived on chips, and I cooked my own simple meals when the others had finished.

The entertainment was good, and although I only went to one more Weekender before George died, it was to set a pattern I would follow after George’s death when these Weekenders not only became a way of life, but led to many lasting friendships.

To celebrate George’s birthday that month we went to see ‘Manon De Sources’, the Marcel Pagnol sequel to his ‘Jean De Florette’ which we had seen several months earlier. Pagnol’s ‘Marius’ trilogy, filmed much earlier, remained among George’s favorite all-time films, and the two new films of Pagnol’s works were also very highly rated by both of us.
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The  day after George’s birthday and we were off on a weekend trip to Yorkshire called ‘The Summer Wine Tour’, because it visited the town where they filmed the TV sitcom ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. We were based in a big hotel in Bradford a few hundred yards from the National TV and Cinema Museum, to which we only managed to squeeze in a brief visit. Nearby was an impressive statue of the playwright J. B. Priestley who came from those parts. We also visited a transport museum on the boundary between Bradford and Leeds. We had hoped to have time to visit Leeds itself, but this just wasn’t possible.

The coach took us to Holmfirth, and we saw the cafe used in the ‘Summer Wine’ TV series and the house by the river where Norah Batty lived in the program. Not being followers of the series it didn’t mean all that much to us. We then went on to Haworth, where the Bronte sisters lived. All these Yorkshire towns were very picturesque with quaint cobbled streets. In Haworth we visited the Bronte House, and then went on a steam train ride from Haworth station which is often used by film and TV crews when they want to film a station as they looked years ago.

We then visited the village where they filmed ‘Emmerdale Farm’ and visited the pub used in the series. Since this was another program we never watched, that didn’t mean much to us either, but we enjoyed the Yorkshire countryside. Finally we visited a market in Halifax, in a large purpose-built enclosed courtyard with shops on three levels. We had really enjoyed this two day trip which picked us up and dropped us down at a fairly local pub. It was one of several such trips we went on which we saw advertised in our local paper.

George was still unemployed, but was doing voluntary work for Oxfam. He also got occasional telex work covering our friend Angel when she was ill or on holiday. He hoped to get a permanent job out of it, and was bitterly disappointed when someone else was appointed eventually. Evidently Angel had neglected to inform George a vacancy had occurred, or to recommend him, yet it was George who got her into telex work. Before that she had been a cleaner. As George said, he helped everyone, but they never seemed to help him in return or show any gratitude. I believe it was things like this which hastened George’s death and deprived him of the will to live. At least he had two weeks work at the end of June and beginning of July whilst Angel was on holiday.

Whilst George was working at Angel’s firm, he got from her the tragic news that her estranged common-law husband and father of three of her children had been killed. Charlie had been the backseat passenger in a car on a trip to Brighton, and on the way back the car had swerved off the road, hit a lamppost and Charlie, who was not wearing a seatbelt, had been thrown through the back window and killed. The driver and the passenger in the front seat (Gazi, one of the guys who had stayed in the caravan at Weymouth) were wearing seatbelts and survived with barely a scratch. The first I heard the news was when George sent me a telex from the office where he was working to mine. I could hardly believe it.

Angel was not just thoughtless when it came to finding George a job – the death of a man she had lived with for years seemed to have little effect on her. The night after he died she was in the local rock’n’roll pub drinking and laughing as usual, completely unconcerned about her three children left home all alone. I was amazed she was in the pub that night, and asked how the children were.

‘Oh, they did seem a bit upset’, she said in a puzzled tone as if this was rather surprising. OK, so they were young teenagers and not little kids, but I did think she could have stayed in the night after their father died to be with them.
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I went to Charlie’s funeral with a rock’n’roll acquaintance, Jerry, who has been lead singer in various bands, and who later appeared as Cliff Richard in TV’s ‘Stars In Their Eyes’. At Angel’s house afterwards I met the driver of the car and shook his hand as warmly as I could, squeezing it with both hands, because I knew what an awful ordeal he must be going through. I later went to the inquest in Redhill, near where the accident happened, where a verdict of accidental death was recorded. The driver and Gazi said they thought they were not speeding, but that the car skidded out of control on a curve. In response to questioning the driver admitted they could have just exceeded the speed limit.

Only later did I learn that they may have been doing well over 100 mph at times, and that Charlie had apparently asked them to slow down. Then I did not feel quite so sympathetic to the driver. I suppose they had all been drinking. Charlie had a bottle of Tia Maria in the back seat from which he was taking swigs. Ironically, the bottle survived the crash intact. I later learned more about the driver from a friend of mine who worked on the railways. It seemed he had a very traumatic experience at a younger age which had a deep psychological effect on him, and made him into a very shy, reticent person. Again I felt sorry for him, since however much he was to blame, killing his friend in a car crash can’t have helped his psychological problems brought on by the earlier incident.

The day after Charlie’s funeral we took my mother on a day trip to Dunkirk by the Sally Line ferry from Ramsgate. George and I loved this ferry because of their Smorgasbord restaurant, where you could help yourself to as much as you liked. We thought it would be a real treat for my mother, but she looked distastefully at the large range of fish starters on offer, including smoked salmon, and remarked that a lot of it looked raw and she couldn’t eat raw fish. She then added insult to injury by saying the meal was very nice, rather like those she got at the annual OAP’s holiday camp vacation. We got the impression the meal was nothing special to her at all, just the usual old fare they dished out to pensioners. If that’s the case, I can’t wait to be a pensioner! (Years later I actually stayed many times at the holiday camp my mother mentioned, and whilst good, the self-service restaurant didn’t quite match up to the Sally Line smorgasbord.)

We had time whilst in Dunkirk to take a shuttle bus into the town, and to visit the famous beaches from which British troops were evacuated in the Second World War. We didn’t bother with the smorgasbord on the way back, as we were all full from the outgoing trip. My mother may not have gone overboard (excuse the pun) for this excellent smorgasbord, but I have a delightful picture of her sitting on a seat overlooking Dunkirk beach enjoying a soft drink called ‘Schitt’. My mother and George next to her are both smiling. It was a nice day out, and I think we all had a good time.

We paid another visit to Hastings for the August Bank Holiday weekend. I know the first indications of George’s terminal illness were during a weekend in Hastings about three years before he died, so this may well have been the time he started to have a sore throat which didn’t clear up for months, and continual recurring mouth ulcers. It all seemed so trivial at the time, and for three years George’s GP prescribed ointment for the ulcers, and apparently never queried the underlying cause.

A week after our 18th anniversary we were off to Lloret again, this time taking our friend Rose and flying from Gatwick in the late afternoon.

We were staying at the same hotel as last time, but had a different room and table in the dining room. Nevertheless our old waitress (not serving our table this time) was very surprised to see us back so soon.
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Our room looked out over the swimming pool at the back of the hotel. It was Rose’s first trip to Spain, and he loved it. The only thing is he does things back to front. Whereas everyone else in the world starts the day slowly, and in the evening is ready to have a drink and go out and enjoy themselves, Rose starts the day at the crack of dawn with a whisky or gin, is high as a kite all morning and on a big come-down every evening. At home he is a couch potato and sits and watches TV all evening, flicking from channel to channel to watch the beginning of one film and the end of another.

Abroad he was like a fish out of water in the evenings. He would lie in bed pretending to be reading a book while George and I went out to our favorite bar. As George remarked, Rose wasn’t really reading, he just went into a sort of TV-deprived stupor, lying in the bed staring at the same page of his book for hours on end. Not once did he come to the bar with us, but I feel sure if the bars had been open with entertainment at six in the morning he’d have been ready to come out and enjoy himself.

Around midday, after a morning on the beach, we would call at a cafe on the front and all have a large beer. Being a daytime drinker, Rose enjoyed this, and it was a pleasant place to sit overlooking the beach, sea and promenade. Rose would eye up the waiter and give him a tip, which was his idea of flirting. Next year when we went back to Lloret without Rose we kidded him on that the waiter was asking where our friend was.

Rose had one successful conquest. He was in a cottage (toilet) right at the end of Lloret beach, by a little fishing cove near the castle. An old man stood beside him at the stalls, and as Rose left the old man said to him: ‘Manana’. Rose came and told us, not having a clue what the world meant. It was one of the two or three words of Spanish we knew and we explained it meant ‘tomorrow’. I don’t think the romantic assignation was ever kept, but it boosted Rose’s ego for a day or so. Actually being on the big side, Rose could have done all right for himself on the Spanish gay scene. In London years before he’d met a Spanish guy in a notorious Kings Road gay club, The Gigolo, who was just wild about Rose. The Spanish seem to like their women, and men, on the large, cuddly side.

When I went back to Lloret with Rose after George died, he was just the same and didn’t want to do anything much in the evenings. He trolled around the gay cruising ground beneath the castle once or twice with me in the evening, but then went back to the hotel whilst I went to the gay bars on my own.

George and I never explored these in Lloret, for the reason I have already explained (he usually took no amphetamines with him on holiday, so couldn’t cope with sex or the gay scene). However, on this trip with Rose after he died I found one or two gay bars, one with a darkroom. The only trouble is the gay scene starts very late in Spain, and nothing happened in the darkroom till after 1 a.m.. The bars didn’t even open till midnight. It was all far too late for Rose, or rather too early. He was raring to go about 5 hours later, showing me up on the beach by camping away like mad after his morning gin.

On this holiday with George, we took Rose for his first visit to Barcelona, which he loved. We strolled up The Ramblas looking at the various stalls, and whenever Rose saw a statue of an attractive looking male he had to be photographed by it. He posed in The Ramblas with George by a statue of a naked youth on horseback, and in a park by the Sagrada Familia next to a fully-clothed figure of a boy. George felt it smacked of pedophilia, since the statue represented a boy of about 14, but Rose insisted so we took his photo.

We showed him Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece (the Sagrada Familia), and a couple of other Gaudi buildings on the way to the church. We ended the day climbing the big hill overlooking Barcelona harbor, with the idea of catching the cable car across the harbor, but we couldn’t find the cable car station, and in the end came down by foot.

Another day we took Rose to picturesque Tossa de Mar, north of Lloret. There were huge waves that day, and Rose and I had a great time bathing, before we walked with George round the castle and the narrow streets of Tossa.

We flew back to Gatwick a week after we left. We were glad we had gone back to Spain so soon, since I could go swimming with Rose (the water now warm after the long, hot summer) and all the bars and places which were closed in April were open in September.
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Two weeks after returning, I was off to Weymouth for my second rock’n’roll weekender, staying in a caravan with Angel, Red and their family. This meant a couple of days work for George covering for Angel at her job. I enjoyed the weekend, though the caravan was a bit hectic. Red did all the cooking, and we had to take turns for our meals.

That Christmas we went down to Hastings for what was to be our last Christmas in England together. It was a bit of a disaster, but very funny in retrospect.

On Christmas Day Neil was up bright and early as usual in his endearingly slow, ponderous way, but he never even dreamed of seeing to the enormous turkey he had bought. Instead he pottered about making cups of tea and spent hours cooking breakfast (a feat I could have accomplished in about 10 minutes). At 1 p.m. he was laboriously sewing up the 18lb turkey, having stuffed it. Nobody else would bother about sewing it, but he was nothing if not methodical. George and Rose had taken the dogs out for a walk, and Rose had friends from his work dropping in that evening for a drink.

Neil had a ritual of going to the pub at lunchtime, and Christmas Day was a must. I did some rough calculations in my head and worked out if he put the turkey in the oven then it would be ready about when Rose’s guests arrived, and they weren’t coming to dinner, only for drinks. So I said we’d better go to the pub first, and put the turkey in the oven when we came back, and have it very late (just before midnight) after Rose’s guests had gone.

We went to the pub on the corner, and meanwhile George and Rose came back. George groaned when he saw the turkey wasn’t even in the oven. He’d had many Christmases in Hastings surviving on corned beef and pork luncheon meat till the day after Boxing Day because nobody could be bothered cooking the turkey. Instead of Rose himself putting the turkey in the oven, he stormed off into the (straight) pub where Neil and I were sitting, surrounded by Neil’s straight friends. Rose came in screaming like a camp fishwife:

‘Oi, Brent!’ (Neil’s surname.) ‘What are you doing sitting ‘ere drinking? Get my bloody turkey in the oven. I’ve got friends coming round at eight’, and he stormed out again.

Neil bent his head low as he sipped his beer, and whispered to me:

‘Oh dear, dear, dear. I do wish he wouldn’t show me up like that’.

We continued our drinks, but a few minutes later Rose stormed in again for a repeat performance. It all culminated in a big row. Rose rang up and told his friends to cancel, and George had to comfort Neil who ended up sitting in the armchair bawling his eyes out, complaining, with considerable justification, that he had to do all the work and preparations for Christmas, and never got any thanks for it or any help from Rose.

It all blew over eventually. I later discovered Rose and Neil thrived on rows and bickering, and loved winding each other up, but it could be uncomfortable for visitors, or just amusing, depending on how well you knew them. Nevertheless, when Rose and Neil invited us down the following year they were disappointed when we said we had made other arrangements. They pressed us, and George said that we couldn’t cope with another performance like last year. Rose and Neil genuinely didn’t seem to know what on Earth we meant; they had completely forgotten about the row which had ruined our Christmas. They’d probably had one every day since, so why should that one stick in their memory?

On a much later occasion, after Neil had suffered a stroke and was housebound because he couldn’t manage all the stairs to their maisonette and refused point blank to move, he was looking in a catalog for a suit. Rose screamed at him because Neil was always ordering stuff they couldn’t afford by mail order: ‘You don’t need a new suit, you aren’t going anywhere till they carry you out in your wooden box.’ This was typical of the way they wound each other up – shocking to a visitor, but just a part of their every day ritual. They’d have been lost without it.

Yet another anecdote. Rose suffers from diabetes and now has to have insulin injections daily. However he ate endless bars of chocolates and sweets, insisting he needed them to build up his sugar levels. Neil liked his marmalade, but kept the pot at his end of the table so Rose couldn’t reach it because it is not good for his diabetes. Rose leaned across and snatched the marmalade pot. I said: ‘You’re not supposed to have that, Rose, it’s got too much sugar in it.’ Rose replied: ‘I want it and I’m having it!’ My reaction was: ‘Charming! That’s what Hitler said when he invaded Poland.’

In 1988 we saw my mother, as always, sometime over the Christmas period when the transport was running again.

Late in January 1989 George went for an interview for what proved to be his last permanent job. It was an American engineering company, and George got the job working in their telecommunications message switching room, which involved the old telex, newer fax and latest e-mail technologies. He started work there in mid-February, and worked there about a year.

The shifts were very difficult, one starting as early as 7.30 a.m.. There was no Tube where we lived, and in those days only a few trains in the morning and evening rush hours from Clapham Junction BR station to Olympia, which was still a bus ride from Hammersmith where George worked. There was no train at that time in the morning, so George had to rely on a bus, which sometimes was late or didn’t turn up. Being an American firm they were a stickler for punctuality, and the fact that George had caught the very first available transport cut no ice with them. Still George did his best, and although he found the shifts a strain, made some friends and got to quite like the job.

He also liked the Hammersmith area, and sometimes I met him there for lunch in the Co-op self-service restaurant, which did a great steak and kidney pie. Other times I met him after work and we went in the Safeway supermarket and did our shopping together.

In April we saw George’s old friend Marlene in Mottingham, Southeast London, who had recently left her parents’ home after her father died and now had a little council flat.

Marlene was quite a character. Once she married a man from Mauritius she hardly knew just so he could stay in the UK. She never got any money for this marriage of convenience, just the short-lived promise of accommodation in a flat in Brighton whenever she wanted it, or when the authorities were coming around to check they were living together as man and wife. Soon Marlene’s husband disappeared, but whilst she was still living with her parents letters kept arriving addressed to Marlene in her new married name. Not having told her parents about this marriage of convenience, they kept wondering who this ‘Mrs Kim’ was who they kept getting misdirected mail for! Marlene had to snatch them away, promising to ‘re-post them’.
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One Sunday in May we visited an agricultural exhibition in Hyde Park. It created a very great impression on us, and there was lots of free or cheap food, which was one of the main attractions. Parts of Hyde Park had been transformed into very rural scenes. One piece of landscaping included an artificial pond, and there were farmyard animals everywhere.

In mid May  I was off to Northern Yugoslavia with my mother. George either didn’t want to come (probably because my mother was coming with me) or couldn’t get the time off work. I didn’t like leaving him at home, but to cheer him and myself up I did a cartoon and put it up on the side of the cupboard in the kitchen so he’d find it when he came home from work. It showed what I would have to put up with day by day with Mum on the holiday, and depicted her grumbling about everything from the moment she got on the plane to returning home again. It appealed to George’s sense of humor and he told me he looked at it every day and had a laugh. It didn’t prove to be too far from the truth.
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This was borne out by two photos of my mother in Yugoslavia. One was taken in our room the day we arrived, and shows her beaming with joy over the room and its balcony with a magnificent sea view. The other photo was taken the next morning in the nearby town center of Pula, and shows her with a grumpy face which clearly showed the novelty had already worn off. No doubt she found the walking a bit much, especially when the sun was shining as she can’t stand too much heat.

The apartments where we were staying were attractively laid out in a wooded area overlooking the sea, with a central reception and dining room block. It did involve quite a lot of walking up and down gentle slopes between our room and the dining room, reception and the local buses.

The town center of Pula was very historic, with many still intact Roman buildings including an arch across one of the main pedestrian shopping streets and a coliseum-type building known locally as the amphitheater. We of course visited all these, and the only way to do it was on foot. My mother took quite a few photos, often of unusual things no-one else would think of photographing. In the impressive amphitheater, for instance, she took a close-up of some weeds, or to be precise, wild flowers growing in the ruins.

We had several trips during our one week stay. We went to the town of Rovinj, which was quite picturesque, even though a huge, very black storm cloud came up whilst we were there and spoilt our photos. Luckily we missed most of the rain, and climbed a hill to the impressive church and walked back down the picturesque winding cobbled streets. I even found a little rocky outcrop where I had a quick dip in the sea and dried off in the sun.
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We had another coach tip to Bled with its dramatic castle perched on top of a rock overlooking the lake. We went up the castle and sat enjoying a magnificent view of the lake with its island and the mountains around. Afterwards we came down and sat by the lakeside till it was time to go back on the coach.

The big trip was across the Adriatic to Venice in Italy. Unfortunately the catamaran service, which took a couple of hours, was canceled due to rough seas, so instead they took us by coach which took 6 or 7 hours each way, including stops for some excellent meals en route.

It was only a one day visit, so it was quite tiring. However my mother got to see Italy and the unique city on the lagoon with canals instead of streets for the first time. We wandered round St Mark’s Square, and I took her to the Rialto Bridge and the nearby self-service cafe which was a favorite of George and myself. We also went on a water-bus up the Grand Canal.

In one pedestrian street I came across a Salvador Dali exhibition, but unfortunately had no time to go in. However I took a photo at the entrance, which led into a room which had been laid out so that from the open doorway it was like looking at Mae West’s face. I know this sounds fantastic, but the photos prove it is true. A frame round the open doorway into the room depicts Mae’s blond tresses, two pictures on the wall form the eyes, and there is a nose-shaped mantelpiece/fireplace and Dali’s famous sofa in the shape of Mae West’s lips. Later in the year George and I were to see the very same tableau in the Dali museum in Spain, but meanwhile he saw the photos I had taken in Venice. It was probably those which decided him we would definitely make a visit to the Dali Museum on our next trip to Lloret.

When not on coach trips, we spent quite a bit of time on the pebbly beach near our holiday apartments. The local hazard was sea urchins, and walking across a submerged rocky outcrop one day I got loads of sea urchin spines in my foot. My mother was helping me pick them out with tweezers, when a burly man came up to us and asked if he could borrow them. I asked where he came from and he said Romania. This was before Communism had fallen in that country, and the man looked like a caricature of a bodyguard or Mafia hitman. There were three Romanians, all looking rather aloof and out of place on the beach in their dark glasses and good clothes. Two looked like well-built bodyguards and I could only assume the third man was an important Party personage in Romania, for probably no-one else would be allowed out of the country. I told my mother her tweezers were possibly being used to remove sea urchin spines from the feet of one of Ceaucescu’s henchmen.

In Pula was a self-service cafeteria where we had lunch once or twice, as we were staying on half-board terms. The first time I had to rescue my mother who was arguing at the cash desk.

‘She wants thousands from me,’ my mother whined. Rampant inflation meant the Dinar fluctuated against the pound sterling by hundreds every day, but my mother just couldn’t get the hang of it or understand that 17,000 Dinars was only about £1.
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In September we were off to Lloret again. We went so many times it is impossible now to remember each individual visit, or what exactly happened on any particular occasion. I know that one year when we visited, possibly this one, we were booked into another hotel in the Garbi complex, just behind the Garbi Park, We chose this hotel because the meals were all self-service buffet, which we much preferred. Not only did we dislike waiter/waitress service because, as the name so aptly describes, it involves a lot of unnecessary waiting around, taking about an hour for a very simple meal, but it was often pot luck what ended up on your plate if you couldn’t actually see the food before you ordered it.

I remember clearly on one occasion there was very little choice on the menu, and we plumped for something which sounded a bit more exotic than omelet. It was called ‘Croque Monsieur’, but it turned out to be nothing more than cheese on toast. On that occasion we walked out of the restaurant in disgust, leaving the Croque Monsieur untouched, and we got a decent meal in Big Eggo’s instead.

That was another problem with the half-board meals at the Garbi Park. They deliberately served the main meal at lunchtime, so half-board guests missed out and had to make do with just breakfast and a snack in the evening. ‘Croque Monsieur’ was the nadir of the evening meal quality, sometimes it was quite acceptable, but nevertheless it was very annoying to look on the menu for the day and see that the full-boarders had tucked into roast chicken or something similar for lunch whilst we had to make do with hamburger and chips for our only proper meal of the day in the evening.

At the Hotel Garbi there were lashings of food in the self service restaurant. You could help yourself to as much as you liked of soup and salad before you even started your main course. We loved it, especially as George was so fussy about what he ate so anything that looked even slightly suspect or had a whiff of garlic or onion he could avoid like the plague before it landed in front of him on his plate. The only trouble about the hotel was the room they gave us. We had a view of a whitewashed blank wall, for our window was set in an alcove of the hotel. We didn’t even have a balcony. It was very depressing.

Luckily for us, they decided to close the Hotel Garbi early that season, so I think it was nearly a week into the holiday they moved us to our old hotel, the Hotel Garbi Park next door. I believe they had a couple of meals a week self service or buffet style, which was an improvement on previous years when it was all waitress service. George accurately forecast that in future years it would all be buffet style, and he was right, but not till after he had died unfortunately.

We put up with the waitress served meals and were well compensated by a nice room with a balcony and a good view. It makes all the difference to a holiday, as a depressing room can be a real downer.

On one of our holidays to Lloret, I can’t remember which, instead of a table to ourselves we were sat with a middle-aged woman on her own named Beryl. At first we got on OK with her, though she was a bit weird. She kept inviting us up to her room for ‘parties’ when we knew perfectly well there would be no-one else present. We always declined these invitations for drinks on her balcony and goodness knows what else in her bedroom afterwards.
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It transpired she had been separated or divorced from her husband for many years, and this trip was not merely a holiday but also an attempt by Beryl to track down her husband, possibly in an attempt to get hold of some of his money. One day she told us over the evening meal that she had spent the day in a town between Lloret and Barcelona where her husband was last heard of, and had spent an hour or so in the local cemetery studying all the inscriptions to see if her husband’s name was there. She didn’t seem to know if he was dead or alive.

She told us about the stray cats, which we had also seen along the cliffs by the sea. Beryl didn’t fool us when she always wrapped up in a napkin all the food she couldn’t eat ‘for the stray cats’. We knew it was to eat later on her balcony as she drank her bevy and enjoyed the view. Apparently she had a very good view, at the back of the hotel overlooking the swimming pool. Her balcony also overlooked other bedrooms at right-angles to hers in another wing of the hotel. She told us one morning she saw a man come out on his balcony with nothing on. George asked her if she recognized him in the dining room, but Beryl said when he came out on his balcony starkers she wasn’t looking at his face. She also said the bedroom curtains were so thin they were like nets, and you could see right through them into people’s rooms when the lights were on inside. This gave me a complex I still have to this day, and at one time I put up two sets of curtains in my bedroom in case neighbors can see in, not that there was often much to see since I only shared my bed with my pet cat, Tibby, till she died, and now sleep alone.

One day we were chatting over our evening meal and Beryl mentioned that her son was in the army and had been involved in the Falklands campaign. This really got our backs up as we were unsympathetic to the army (except that soldiers in uniform are erotic sex objects to most gay men, us included) and we were totally opposed to the Malvinas episode. We firmly believed the Malvinas (Falklands) rightly belonged to Argentina, and that the British settlers there should either take Argentinean citizenship or come home to Britain if they insisted on being British.

Inevitably the discussion got more and more heated, and in the end as she kept on about her son’s Falklands experiences George burst out:

‘Well, he’s a murderer then’.

At this point Beryl stood up and started shouting hysterically, demanding to be moved to another table. She had clearly been drinking in the afternoon, and so probably had George. It was quite embarrassing, as other diners could have gotten quite the wrong impression when a woman sitting with two men suddenly started demanding a table on her own and shouting that she would never sit with us again. It obviously looked as if we had made an improper suggestion when in fact, if anything, it was the other way around (she constantly inviting us to her room, presumably with hanky panky in mind).

The waitress and head waiter came over, and eventually they got her a table on her own for the evening meal. The waitress gave us a knowing look – she knew Beryl was eccentric and that it wasn’t entirely our fault.

Next day we went down to the dining room for the evening meal, and as we waited for the doors to open we studied the menu for the day. Beryl came up to us as if nothing had happened the previous evening and started chatting away merrily about the menu and what she had done that day. From then on we sat at the same table together with no further incidents, though all talk of the Falklands and her son in the army was studiously avoided.

When we all left at the end of our holiday, Beryl made a big thing about how nice the waitress had been and how she was going to give her a big tip. In the event she gave her just a few pesetas. She was OK though, and gave us a few laughs on our holiday.

Now whether all this happened on this particular holiday I can’t remember. Certainly we fed the stray cats on this visit, as I have photos to prove it. It became a yearly ritual, going up the cliffs to a slightly wooded area (where a little bit of gay and straight hanky panky also went on, but we didn’t participate) to feed the hundreds of stray cats, many of them kittens. We bought milk and cat food from the supermarket, and fed them every day. When we fed them for the last time on the evening before we left for home, a black and white cat followed us all along the path mewing frantically, as if it was begging us to take it home with us. If it hadn’t been for quarantine regulations I think we might have done so. As it was we were both in tears as we walked back to the hotel, George telling me not to look back as we couldn’t do anything about it. It broke our hearts because we knew the poor thing could be dead when we came back next year – many cats do not survive the winter. They get plenty of food from tourists in the summer, but have to fend for themselves in the cold winter months.

We did the usual things whilst in Lloret, spending a lot of time on the beach. We watched some Catalan dancing in the main square one or two evenings, which we enjoyed very much. We may even have joined in on one occasion. I remember we showed Rose the dancing the previous year, but he was not as taken with it as we were.
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We visited Tossa-de-Mar as usual, but we may have given Barcelona a miss this time. At least I have no photos of it in my album, and George doesn’t mention a visit in his diary. Instead we visited the town of Gerona, which was quite interesting. We flew into Gerona airport each year, but had never seen the town itself. It was set on a river, and there were steep, narrow streets leading up to the cathedral, from where there were fine views of the town and surrounding hills. There was also some quite interesting Catalonian architecture, although it was not exactly Gaudi.

We also paid a visit to Figueras, home of the Dali Museum. Wednesday September 20th, 1989 sticks in my memory as one of the happiest days of my life. I remember saying to George afterwards that if at the end of my life someone told me I could have one day to re-live over again, this would be it. Gay couples didn’t then have a civil partnership or wedding day to remember, so that couldn’t be the happiest day of our lives, and the day we met was quite uneventful until the last few hours when I met George in a cinema. However that Wednesday towards the end of our time on Earth together was the most perfect day I can remember, spent entirely with the person I loved most, my George.

It was a difficult journey to Figueras. We had to get up early and catch a local bus to Blanes Station. We then had to change trains en route, at Gerona I think. We finally arrived, and left the station without a clue where the Dali museum was. Fortunately there were some town maps and signs directing us to the museum. As we walked down the main boulevard we came across a self service restaurant, where we each had a truly marvelous meal. Our day of perfection had begun.

The sun was shining in a clear blue sky as we made our way from the restaurant, and eventually there facing us was one of the most fantastic, surrealist sights on Earth – rivaling even Gaudi’s art-nouveau excesses in Barcelona. A large red castle-like edifice with a circular turret was ahead of us. The entire building was covered in symmetrical ornamentation, giving it the appearance from a distance of being enclosed in red metal fixed in place with rivets. The most surrealist feature, however, was at the top of the walls and the tower where, in place of battlements, there were giant eggs, most upright, but some on the tower laying horizontal. In between these giant eggs atop the walls were triangular plinths surmounted by elegant silver statues. The whole thing was immensely pleasing to the eye, and of course utterly surrealist. This was, I believe, the castle where Dali’s wife, Gala, lived in her final years.

Next to it was the ‘Theater Museum’ exhibiting many of Dali’s works. In the pedestrian square outside the museum there were Dali sculptures, such as a statue atop a tall plinth of what looked like automobile tires, and halfway up some steps leading down to a street, a Dali statue of a human figure which was utterly surrealist. Immediately in front of the main entrance was a statue enclosed in iron railings for protection, which depicted a figure holding its hand to its head. However, in place of a head was a golden egg tilted on one side. Beneath the egg, at its narrower end, was an Elizabethan-style ruff. Next to this statue on a thin pole was a cluster of golden eggs.

The interior of the museum was a wonderland for Dali enthusiasts and surrealists. There were paintings and sculptures by the artist, and the room I’ve already mentioned where, from a wooden platform alongside one wall, you could look through a viewfinder and see Mae West’s face composed of two pictures on the wall for eyes, a mantelpiece nose, and Dali’s Mae West lips sofa.
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In an internal courtyard was an old car complete with sculptured occupants. As you peered through the windows water started spurting up inside the car, as it was not just one of Dali’s surrealist sculptures but also a fountain, which switched itself on and off to surprise the unwary onlooker.

We bought loads of postcards of the museum and its exhibits, as photos were not allowed inside. Making our way back to the station I noticed one other surrealist piece of street furniture in the main boulevard. It was a tall column with blue sky and clouds painted on the outside. There was a vertical zip, partly undone to reveal a dark blue interior. This was obviously another of Dali’s sculptures in the town where he spent much of his life.

We had hoped to visit the village of Cadaques by the sea where the artist lived, but we didn’t have time to make this difficult journey. Dali had already died by the time we visited Figueras, but was buried at the time, I believe, in a fairly ordinary grave. I read later that his remains were moved for a time at least to the museum in Figureras where they became the main surrealist, if rather macabre, attraction.

We journeyed back on the train, and in the evening paid a visit to the bar we called (incorrectly) the ‘Cafe Berlin’ where there was cabaret and music. It was a perfect end to a perfect day as we danced happily to the music till the early hours. Without doubt, if I had one day to live over again, it would be that wonderful Wednesday, one of the many happy days I shared with my beloved George.

Two days later we returned to the UK after our twelve day holiday. There was only to be one more return visit to Lloret together.

On Christmas Eve that year we set off by coach from an hotel near Euston to spend Christmas in the Rhineland. The coach departed from the hotel car park, we did not stay there overnight. Unknown to us, it was to be the very last Christmas we ever spent together.

On the coach there was a rather elderly gentleman who went on this trip every year to spend Christmas in Andernach, a little town on the Rhine. During the journey he told us all about it. George and I were booked to go on another Christmas trip (to Paris this time) the year he died, and my mother went with me instead. I saw this old man in the other coach on his way to Andernach yet again.

It was a pleasant Christmas break. Even in a little town like Andernach all the transport was running on Christmas day. It was only in UK that families without cars were prevented from seeing each other or going anywhere, and those with cars were forbidden to drink over Christmas because of selfish transport workers. As far as George and I were concerned, the sooner we were ruled from Brussels, sweeping away all our silly British restrictions, the better. We were true Europeans, and felt nearly everything was done so much better on the Continent, or indeed in the USA and Australia, than it is in the UK.

We stayed in a family run hotel, and the meals were quite adequate, though as we expected, not the traditional British Christmas fare. No doubt some British tourists were complaining about missing their turkey and Christmas pud, but they should have stayed at home.

Christmas day was bright and sunny, and we walked around the town without overcoats, looking at the castle and the River Rhine. During our three night stay we were taken by coach to nearby Koblenz, where we viewed the river Rhine again and the rather grim gray monuments on its banks, and we also had a brief look at the shops and outside of the cathedral. We went on a pleasant river trip on the Rhine, and the Lorelei Rock was pointed out to us.

We found Andernach a little quiet, but we enjoyed the break. The only thing that spoiled it for me was the news that the Ceausescus had been shot on Christmas day. Although never an admirer of his regime, I felt this did not augur well for democracy in the post-Communist world, and there seemed something particularly horrifying and callous in this cold-blooded execution without a fair open trial, on Christmas day.

We traveled back home on December 27th, knowing in just over two weeks we were off again on our journey of a lifetime, to Australia no less.
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1990 was to be our last full calendar year together, though of course neither of us knew it. George worked for just one week of it, and on Friday January 5th he did his last regular paid day’s work of his life. The American company for which he worked refused to give him three weeks off to visit Australia. They told him, in effect, if he couldn’t see Australia in two weeks he’d have to leave. Apparently this is standard practice in the United States, which explains why there are so many package tours for Americans to see Europe in less than a fortnight. Presumably they never get the chance to go further afield, unless they are so rich they don’t have to work, or can fit holidays in between changing jobs.

Of course George could have reapplied for his job a decent interval after we’d returned from Australia. There was no need for him to never work again, as several people had left the company and gone back. But George never tried to return. The hours were very difficult, and I think he felt he’d had enough, since he still hadn’t embarked on the new career he sought when he left Amnesty International.

Jimmy, a friend of George’s who lived in Aldershot, came to collect our cat. He was to look after Trixie while we were away. Apparently he had a tramway track in his flat, with large model trams, and Trixie was quite fascinated by them, if a little scared of the noise they made.

In January  we set off for the big adventure. The fact that George was so determined to go to Australia makes me now feel sure that even when we booked back in 1989 he felt he didn’t have long to live and might never make it if he didn’t go now. True fares were coming down and we got quite a good deal, but arguably it would have been even cheaper in a few more years. I remember when I suggested this George was adamant that we didn’t put it off, and he was right.

It was truly the holiday of a lifetime, and for some reason it is now the most traumatic of all the holidays we went on for me to recall. There were later holidays, and of course the last one we took together in Jersey where he was so ill, which is also very traumatic for me to remember, but none whose happy memories cause so much pain as the Australian trip. Whenever I think about this holiday it is almost as if that is where George is now, and for that reason I doubt I will ever visit Australia again, since it would be such a disappointment not finding him there. George was planning another visit when he died, but I know I’d just be looking for him everywhere if I went again, and I’d rather keep the memories of us there together on the other side of the world.

For this long-haul flight we were flying, believe it or not, from Luton airport on Britannia, the charter airline. We set off in plenty of time, as we thought, only to get to St Pancras station and find there was no train to Luton for one and a half hours. We should, of course, have gone from Kings Cross Thameslink station down the road, but the St Pancras booking office failed to tell us this. As we sat in the empty train for over an hour I saw a friend of mine on the platform and had a brief chat (the guy who’d got me the job at CND headquarters all those years ago). For some reason I didn’t tell him we were off to Australia. It seemed ridiculous to be sitting in a train to Bedfordshire which didn’t leave for another hour or so, when one was off to the other side of the world. Heathrow and Gatwick sound fine, but Luton airport? That’s where you go for Spain and other short-haul trips to the Continent.

Luton is one of the most difficult airports to get to in the London area, and had we known of the terrible mainline train service from St Pancras we could have gone direct by Greenline bus, or of course the Thameslink service which we weren’t really aware of. Instead we arrived at Luton station very late and had to have a taxi from there to the airport, where we found nearly everyone else had arrived and checked in ahead of us. No-one else seemed to have come by train from St Pancras, since we arrived alone at Luton station, but presumably other train passengers knew Thameslink had recently replaced most of the St Pancras to Luton services.

It was a disaster for us, as all we could get were smoking seats. With George’s throat condition this was a terrible blow. It was also most unfair, since we had booked the holiday months ago, probably before many of the people who were allocated no smoking seats. We had to sit in a smoke filled cabin for well over twenty hours, and George’s throat never recovered. In a way it spoilt the whole holiday for us, since he could hardly eat anything most of the time. For long haul journeys such as this no-one should be forced to sit in a smoking compartment against their will. (Of course, years after George died smoking was banned altogether in most aircraft.)

The seats were also very cramped for such a long flight. It was very early days for charter flights to Australia, and they seemed to be using the same planes they used for Spain and other Mediterranean destinations. However, we did have movies and audio entertainment on board.

It was a very long flight indeed, about 27 hours all told with fuel stops in Bahrain and Singapore, where we got out and stretched our legs. Both were new experiences for us, and our first glimpse of Asia. We saw Saudi Arabia and India far below from the plane windows – it was hard to believe we were so far away from home, even though we’d previously been halfway around the world the other way as far as Hawaii. Asia seems so much more foreign, exotic and distant than the United States.
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In Singapore a lot of people broke their journey for a few days, so we were able to get seats in the non-smoking compartment for the last few hours. We flew into Cairns airport in Queensland to go through immigration procedures. This was because we were flying to Canberra, which had no international airport. Once through immigration we took off again and headed south. We crossed the Great Barrier Reef, and could see the beautiful colors in the blue sea below the plane.

We finally arrived at the unimpressive Canberra airport, and walked through the arrivals lounge to the entrance. Our immediate impression of Australia’s capital city of some 200,000 people was ‘where is it?’ Even as we drove by taxi through the city streets to our hotel little could be seen but trees, hedges and distant hills. It made Welwyn Garden City look like a pulsating metropolis.

It turned out we were staying in the diplomatic quarter, which was very suburban in character, as is all but the very center of Canberra. In fact, we were only a short distance from Parliament and the center of town. We had a chalet type apartment with a back view of the modern architecture of a Serbian church next door to the motel. Nearby was a Burns Center where ex-patriot Scots celebrated Burns night whilst we were in Canberra, but George didn’t feel inclined to go along.

During our whole stay in Australia, traveling by bus between Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, we never saw any kangaroos or other animals unique to the continent, except in Sydney Zoo. However, as soon as we arrived we were fascinated by the many strange birds we saw and heard. The familiar sparrows and pigeons seemed somehow out of place amongst the more exotic varieties.

Also different were the stars, few of which you can see in London anyway. The Southern Cross was a constellation we had never seen before, which emphasized how far away from home we were. Yet I had the strangest feeling, wherever we were in Australia, that our little flat in Battersea might be right beneath our feet on the other side of the globe.

We were staying in an avenue shaped like a huge crescent, and when we discovered the Prime Minister’s residence was further along the road we decided one day to take a stroll along there. About two miles later we finally arrived at a rather unimpressive residence, screened by high walls with security cameras on the gates. It did not seem worth the long walk there and back again.

Although Australia’s new Parliament Building was fairly close, it was impossible to see till you were right on top of it. Literally, as it happens, since it is buried beneath a green mound. To be precise, the roof has been turfed over to form a lawn, and it slopes right down to ground level on one side, so to all appearances you are walking up a pleasant green hill to a large, steel-sculptured flagpole by a stepped wall. When you arrive at the top of this ‘hill’ you find the flagpole and wall are on the roof of the Parliament Building, the main facade of which is now below you. On the ‘hill’ are various areas where you can look down into the building and its courtyards.

It is a very cleverly designed building, and we were taken inside to see the Chambers. It is strange that we have seen the parliamentary chambers of both the United States and Australia, but not the House of Commons or the House of Lords at home in London. None of the Chambers we visited were sitting when we were there.

We found the Australian parliament building a very impressive piece of modern architecture, but most impressive of all was the huge meal we got in the self-service cafeteria. This was before George’s throat started playing up, and we really enjoyed the meal in the restaurant with a terrace looking out over Canberra under the clear blue sky.
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From the new Parliament Building there was a view of the old Parliament Building by the river, and the mountains beyond. We spent some time in the new building, and sent some postcards with the special parliamentary postmark. I wrote one to work, and George encouraged me to give the impression I might decide to stay in Australia, we liked it so much. So after ‘See you in three weeks’ I put a question mark.

As we left the building and started walking into downtown Canberra, we saw numerous stray cats hiding in the hedges. The scenery was still very green, with trees, lawns and hedges everywhere and little sign of any buildings, which were all well hidden, though not half underground like Parliament. As we crossed the bridge over the artificial river or lake, we saw the urban center of Canberra, with its shops, offices and the all-important bus station where in a few days we had to catch a bus to Melbourne.

We explored the downtown area, which had some pedestrianized shopping streets with some impressive fountains. There were also more unexpected things, like a carousel. We discovered the bus station was quite a good place to get a nice snack, and I also spent some time trying to trace an acquaintance from work who was in Canberra at the time. I found the local Amnesty International office, but they had never heard of the person. I left a message for her, but found out when I got home that she had indeed been in Canberra, but was having a baby and was in any case not in Australia to work for Amnesty International so was not known by the local office.
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We had two days in Canberra, and spent some time in the park area adjoining the lake. We visited the island, accessible by a bridge, and viewed the huge water jet fountain springing from the middle of the lake. There was also an interesting bell-tower on the island. On the banks of the lake I visited an old schoolhouse, said to be the oldest building in Canberra, whilst George waited for me outside. We enjoyed our visit to this very quiet capital city, but even after seeing the downtown area it was hard to believe nearly a quarter of a million people lived there. The suburbs must surely spread unobtrusively for miles to accommodate them all.

As pre-arranged by our travel agent back home, we caught the coach from the bus station and were soon leaving the Australian Capital Territory and traveling south through New South Wales on our way to Melbourne. On the way we passed a sign pointing to Wagga Wagga, and knew we really were in Australia, despite the apparent absence of kangaroos (although their presence in the vicinity was acknowledged by the large number of road signs warning drivers to beware of these elusive animals crossing the highway.) The scenery was fairly green, with trees and the odd lake, and often mountains in the distance. Most of the land seemed to be uncultivated, as on our travels in the United States. Of course, we never got into the heartland of Australia or saw the real Outback. It didn’t really appeal to us, traveling through miles of desert just to see Ayers Rock or Alice Springs. Being urban creatures, the big Australian cities were of far more interest than some rock mountain in the desert.

We crossed into Victoria state after passing through the town of Albury, where the coach stopped for 30 minutes or so, and finally we arrived in Melbourne and took a taxi to our hotel.
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Melbourne was very different from Canberra: a metropolis of skyscrapers very like the North American cities we had visited, except that here trams were lined up everywhere (and even these brought echoes of San Francisco’s cable cars and New Orleans’ streetcars). We had arrived in the middle of the Great Melbourne Tram Strike, and these vehicles had just been lined up in the middle of the busy streets and abandoned for the duration. Most were painted green and yellow, but a few came in other colors, like a blue and white tram with decorative windows advertising Australian Eagle Insurance. These parked vehicles proved quite an obstacle when trying to cross the roads, but at least if they weren’t moving they couldn’t knock you down.

There seemed to be some sort of festival on whilst we were there, and in one of the main shopping streets a teenage brass band was playing. We went into a department store and had a meal in their below ground self-service restaurant.

There was a colleague of mine from my workplace in every city we were visiting in Australia, and after missing Marianne in Canberra, I was keeping a lookout for Rob in Melbourne. I didn’t have an address for him, but I found myself watching all the customers in the self-service restaurant every time we ate there in case he walked in. He didn’t.

Walking along one street we suddenly came across the Princess Theater where George’s favorite musical, ‘Les Miserables’, was playing. I had already seen it once, and George many times, but we went to the box office and to our utter amazement were able to get Grand Circle seats for that very night. In London you would have to book months ahead, but it was very fortunate for us since, after our arrival late the previous evening, we only had one more night in Melbourne.

We both enjoyed the production very much indeed, and George started talking to some of the theater staff and told them that the production was at least as good, if not better, than the London one, which seemed to please them.

Apart from the skyscrapers, there were some impressive civic buildings in Melbourne, and here we got our first look at typical Australian terraced town houses with their ornate balconies. There are quite a few of these in both Melbourne and Sydney, but apparently they were little valued and were starting to be demolished until someone slapped a preservation order on them. Quite rightly too, as they are as unique to Australia as the balconied houses of the French Quarter are to New Orleans.

On my insistence we ventured south across the river to get a view of the whole downtown area and skyline, and the thought entered my head that this was the furthest point south on the globe George and I would ever travel. We never went south far enough to see the coast, in the form of Port Philip Bay, for we only had one full day in the city, which was sufficient for all we wanted to see.

Melbourne has one of the highest Greek populations outside Greece or Cyprus, and as I saw all the Greek restaurants and other businesses I wondered if my godfather was sitting in one of them. Noona and Panos, my Greek godparents, had settled in Melbourne many years before, and Noona had since died. I should have asked my dad for Panos’ address, but I didn’t, and I couldn’t look him up in the phone book as I didn’t know his surname. Even ‘Noona’ and ‘Panos’ were dubious, as I believe at least ‘Noona’ was just a baby-word for ‘godmother’, so possibly neither were their real first names. I remembered them quite well, as they owned a restaurant just around the corner from my father’s in Swiss Cottage in the late 40s and early 50s.
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Our departure from Melbourne was very upsetting. We were booked on a certain coach, and thinking we had plenty of time I said we might as well go by subway train, which should have gone direct from a station opposite our hotel to another one very near the bus station. First of all we got on one going in the wrong direction which wasn’t difficult to do since it was a sort of circle line. The only trouble was this particular train was terminating at the next station. We waited and waited on the platform for a train going back about two stations to the one we wanted, and in the end we had to give up and try and get a taxi. George was having trouble with his case on wheels as the handle kept coming off, and as we struggled across the road and tried to hail a taxi, we were both panicking. We finally caught a cab and got to the bus station just in time to catch our coach. The person on the check-in desk even remarked that we had left it till the very last minute, and George was absolutely furious with me. To save a few pennies I had caused him to have palpitations, and he made me promise in future we would have taxis whenever we were going to or from the coach station and our hotels.

On the long journey northeast to Sydney we made a couple of refreshment stops, and part of the way we had a movie to watch in the coach which turned out to be ‘Clockwise’ starring John Cleese and Joan Hickson. It was a very funny film which we had seen before but enjoyed seeing again, whilst keeping one eye on the window for the odd wallaby or kangaroo, which alas never materialized.
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Approaching Sydney, we seemed to go through endless suburbs for hours and hours. I was convinced Sydney must be about three times the size of London, but knew from the population of the entire country of Australia that this couldn’t be the case. Presumably the Sydney suburban houses and their gardens just take up a huge amount of land, after all there is plenty of it in Australia. At any rate, after first hitting the outer suburbs it took about two hours to arrive at the center of town. We were staying in the Kings Cross area, at the Kingsview Motel. To our delight, and contrary to what the name would lead you to expect, it was not a motel at all but an urban hotel in the main street, and our room windows and a nearby hotel roof terrace gave excellent views of downtown Sydney and also east towards Bondi Beach.

We had three weeks for our Australian trip, and we had divided it so that we spent three nights in Canberra, two in Melbourne, four in Singapore on the way home, one actually flying to Australia and the remaining ten in Sydney which was the place we really wanted to see, arriving back at Luton 20 days after we’d set out.

Another acquaintance of mine from the AI headquarters in London was working in Sydney at the time, and we actually did rendezvous with Marie on several occasions. She was working in the AI office there, and that is where I first met up with her. It was interesting to see the office and the machine where all the faxes I sent came out. George waited in a nearby pub whilst I was in the AI office, then I joined him for a very good and reasonably priced meal in the pub.

A day or so later I went over to Marie’s house and we had a chat at a typical Australian ‘barbie’ in her back garden along with other lodgers. George didn’t come on this occasion, but he met her later.

There was so much to see and do in Sydney. Apart from the tourist sights, there was a very large gay scene to explore, various beaches, and the Sydney Festival was on while we were there.
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We met Marie downtown one day and had our photos taken around the harbor area with views of Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Opera House, etc.. We then went in a little restaurant by the harbor and George and Marie got on famously talking about Amnesty office in London and Marie’s boss, whom George knew from his days there. He was, to say the least, not popular with either of them.

The Circular Quay area of the main harbor, which is where all the tourist boats leave for various destinations, had many piers, and by one of them was a seafood stall. George loved seafood and went overboard for this kiosk. Nearly every time we passed it he bought himself a seafood takeway meal, which consisted of crab and various other shellfish and seafood. Once he’d discovered that kiosk it made the holiday for him. No matter how sore his mouth was, he could always manage a little seafood.

The Kings Cross area was quite lively, with plenty of fast food outlets and cafes. I ate there several times, but George being on amphetamines some of the time was not eating for days on end. In the backstreets in front of our hotel were lots of cheap lodgings for backpackers. You could walk via this route into town, going down some steep steps to a harbor area and into the park the other side. In this central park was a museum/art gallery, and if you walked right across the park you found yourself by the Sydney Opera House. We did this walk once or twice, but usually we got the subway, as Kings Cross station was right near our hotel.

In this park some open-air concerts were due to be held, but unfortunately it rained very heavily. We were actually quite lucky with the weather, as it had been a dreadful summer in Sydney, according to Marie, and we arrived during the one good spell in the entire summer, and had many hot, sunny days.
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The first day in Sydney we took the circular tour bus which stopped in Kings Cross and went round all the main tourist sights. This started to give us our bearings.

Another day we visited the re-vamped Darling Harbor area, which we liked very much. It was a sort of tourist and recreation center, and amongst other things we visited the aquarium under the harbor with its glass walkways allowing you to view sharks and other fish. We also visited a Chinese garden with several pagoda-type buildings. We thought this would give us a foretaste of Singapore, but it was probably more authentically Chinese and Southeast Asian than anything we saw in Asia itself.

There were plenty of cafes and snack bars in Darling Harbor, many located in huge exhibition halls. We had arrived by Monorail, which runs in a loop through downtown Sydney, giving unique views as you glide along.
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There were some little touches in Darling Harbor which really intrigued us: an unusual fountain consisting of a concentric circle set in the ground, with water gently flowing round it. I have a photo of George standing in it in his bare feet. Most of all, though, we fell in love with the unique white statues or figurines everywhere. These appeared to be made of some light material, and were of just ordinary people, no-one in particular. There were acrobats on stilts, and a little lady in a big hat with a handbag just standing on the pavement looking up towards the sky and smiling. We both had our photo taken by this charming figure. Then there was a statue of a man in open necked shirt and suit lounging on a real bench. I had my photo taken with my arm round his shoulder, and him looking towards me. Obviously these statues had been placed with photo opportunities in mind, and had they been painted they would have been indistinguishable from real people in the photos.

Of course we explored the downtown area itself, going up the inevitable Telecom tower, riding the Monorail and visiting the vast shopping malls which are all interconnected beneath street level. In one of these, by a subway station entrance, we found a little snack bar going by the charming name of ‘Eat’n’Run’. We ate here several times, and also in Woolworth’s cafeteria overlooking one of Sydney’s main streets. One thing which amused us was discovering Grace Brothers department store, which of course reminded us of the British sitcom ‘Are You Being Served?’ No doubt many British visitors went in hoping to discover Mrs Slocombe, Mr Humphreys and all the rest in the clothing department.

There were some unusual fountains in Sydney, one in a square right near our hotel in Kings Cross. This was a ‘dandelion’ type fountain of the sort we had first encountered in Dresden, East Germany. In one of the parks was a fountain with a statue on a plinth, and jets of water radiating from behind the figure. Other statues surrounded the central one in the pool around the main fountain.

I went for a walk in the streets behind our hotel one day and discovered a tranquil marina with adjoining parkland. Another day I took the subway to the Bondi area. I had to get a bus for the last bit of the journey, and frankly it was a bit of a disappointment when I finally arrived at Bondi beach. It was just a large, sandy bay with grassy banks leading down to it in the suburbs of Sydney. I don’t know quite what I expected, but something a bit more exciting than what looked like a very quiet, conservative British seaside resort. In fact it looked like a dead suburb attached to a quiet seaside resort. There were few shops, cafes or other amenities, and certainly nothing exotic such as palm trees. A functional all-purpose building on the beach served as a snack bar and had shower and toilet facilities, and that was about it.

I discovered swimming in Australia is a somewhat dangerous pastime. Apart from the worry about sharks, the main danger is from surfers who are likely to knock your head off with their surfboards. So swimming is restricted to one narrow area of most beaches, the rest is taken over by surfers. The waves were certainly very high, but I found the novelty soon wore off. It was hopeless for snorkeling, so I left my mask at home on subsequent trips to the coast. This was not the Great Barrier Reef.

There are two types of beaches around Sydney. The seaward beaches, like Bondi and Manly, which have huge surfers’ waves. Then there are the calm harbor beaches, which we did not have time to visit. The latter would be more suitable for snorkeling, but unfortunately they are also more suitable for sharks. All popular beaches have shark nets, but as Marie kindly pointed out to us, the huge holes clearly visible in all these nets testify as to how ineffective they really are. Still, very few people are actually attacked by sharks, and after your first swim you tend to forget about them. The surfers were a far more of a real hazard.

George didn’t come with me to Bondi, but on another occasion we took a boat from Sydney Harbor across to Manly beach, which was a much livelier resort than Bondi. It had two beaches, one at each side of a peninsular. There was the harbor beach where our boat docked, but we walked along a busy pedestrianized shopping street, very much like a busy British seaside resort apart from the palm trees, to the seaward beach. It was strange to be at the seaside on a boiling hot day and see many of the shops still decorated for Christmas.

The seaward beach at Manly was another sandy beach with huge waves. George lay on the sand whilst I swam, but he said the fine sand was getting in his throat and making it sore. Still, we enjoyed the day out, and found some excellent little home-made steak and kidney pies in the shops around the resort, which we tucked into with relish whilst sitting on a seat.

Another day we took a boat from Sydney Harbor across to the zoo. This is where we saw our only marsupials during our visit to Australia, and the kangaroo we saw was lying down fast asleep. Sydney Zoo is in a lovely setting overlooking the harbor, with views of the distant Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge.

In the Rocks area above the main harbor and immediately below the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Sydney Festival was in full swing. There were more of the typically Australian terraced houses with their iron balconies, and along these streets were parked hundreds of vintage cars assembled for the festival. On some grassland was a stage where we sat and listened to various bands, and all around the area two drag queens, one on stilts, kept walking around chatting to all and sundry. From a little park on a hill above this area I got a good view and a photo of the Harbor Bridge, and the church in front of the main festival area with a red London double decker bus parked in front of it.

Also near this area were some covered piers beyond the Harbor Bridge which had stalls and kiosks on them and which we explored. One day we went on the train across the bridge, got out a couple of stations later and came back. On the far side of the bridge down below the station was a little fun fair, but we didn’t visit it and, indeed, it may have been closed. On a TV documentary I have seen since it appeared to be sadly derelict.

We explored the Sydney gay scene, for which George had saved up his ‘sweeties’ (amphetamines). We discovered a backroom-type club in Sydney’s Oxford Street, which we both visited several times. On one occasion I got talking with someone there and told him that there was nothing like that in London (which was true at the time). He laughed and said something to the effect that it didn’t surprise him since Britain lived in the Victorian age in many respects. Then I really felt Britain was the laughing stock of the entire civilized world with its antiquated morality laws.

This backroom club was extremely well run, with free coffee on offer in a sort of lounge area, cubicles if you wanted to be private, and of course free safe sex advice and condoms handed out to everyone as they entered.

U.S. porn star, Jeff Stryker, was performing in a park in Sydney during our stay, but we didn’t make the journey out to the suburbs to see him. Had we been a few weeks later we could have seen the gay Mardi Gras for which Sydney is now world famous.

We were there for Australia Day, which was our last full day in Australia. Flags were flying everywhere, and George described some of the special events in an article he wrote (see below).

We met Marie one evening and went into one of the lesser auditoriums in the Sydney Opera House to see Victor Spinetti reciting his ‘Very Private Diary’. It was basically a queen gossiping about famous people, and was very funny. Marie enjoyed it as much as we did.

Also whilst in Sydney we saw Daniel Day-Lewis prove himself to be an outstanding actor in the moving film ‘My Left Foot’ about overcoming severe physical disability.

On Marie’s advice, we took one trip right out of the Sydney metropolitan area altogether, inland to the Blue Mountains. We went by train to Katoomba, where we should have caught a bus outside the station to the gorge overlooking the mountains. Instead we started walking, and eventually found it, walking along a wooded path by the gorge till we arrived at the main tourist area. This had a scary cable car which I went on, but George felt it was just too frightening as it left you suspended by the cliff-face above a sheer drop. It gave you a magnificent view of the Katoomba Falls (a high but narrow waterfall), the Orphan Rock and also the Three Sisters, which are three rocks on one of the nearer mountains. The more distant mountains did indeed look blue.

Ironically, although George wouldn’t go on the cable car, he elected to join me on a less scary looking ride. As we sat in it we found ourselves lying almost flat on our backs before being strapped in, and we knew we had let ourselves in for something a bit more robust than a little scenic train ride. We suddenly found ourselves catapulted through a tunnel and over the sheer cliff face at a 90 degree angle. In other words, from being flat on our backs we were standing vertically going down the gorge as if in a very narrow, open fronted elevator. It was extremely frightening, but we both survived to tell the tale.

We really enjoyed our stay in Australia, and Sydney especially, and planned to come back some day. Sadly, it was not to be.

Later, back in London, George wrote the following (unpublished) article about Sydney and its festival.

‘The highlight of our holiday was the unexpected surprise of discovering that the Festival of Sydney, which takes place through January, coincided with our stay there. It gave additional atmosphere and ambience to that most adventurous of Australian cities.

‘The Festival was launched on New Year’s Eve at Sydney harbour with a skyshow of fireworks, choreographed with a soundtrack of classical and rock music, all outdoors and all free. Indeed there are free shows and events daily, including street theatre at Darling Harbour and Circular Quay, outdoor movies outside the Opera House, lunchtime and twilight pop concerts, etc.. During January 1990 among the free events was a mid-Summer jazz concert at the Domain, a performance of “La Boheme”, symphonic concerts in Hyde Park, a “motorfest” of vintage cars, trucks, motorcycles and buses at The Rocks, and to celebrate Australia Day on 26 January, a ferrython at Sydney Harbour, with yacht races, a display of boats of all shapes and sizes, culminating in a fireworks display in the evening. And of course there is opera, theatre and all sorts of cultural and artistic activities taking place throughout the city during January. Just absorbing yourself in the atmosphere and ambience of Sydney during these exciting events and activities is sufficient reason for taking the trip down under.

‘Apart from the Festival, there are the historical associations, the shops (department stores open Sundays), various aspects of the city, from the red light district of Kings Cross, which is well worth a visit and not at all hazardous to wander around, and from the central railway station you can take a trip to view the Blue Mountains, if you wish to escape from the city and see some panoramic scenery. Take a ferry to the Island of Manly for one of the most pleasant beaches and seaside resorts where swimming, shopping and eating are among the leisure activities to experience. The restaurants in Sydney are a gourmet’s delight and not at all expensive. There is so much to do and see in Sydney that you will never be bored, especially during the Festival and on Australia Day. If you still feel like celebrating en route to UK why not stop over in Singapore for the Chinese New Year?’

From Sydney we caught the bus back to Canberra, and then hung around till it was time to get the taxi to the airport. We had a snack in the bus station while we waited. Then it was ‘goodbye’ to Australia as we left on our way to Singapore. On the plane they were showing the film ‘When Harry Met Sally’ which George enjoyed more than I did. It was dark by the time we arrived at Singapore for our one and only real taste of Asia.

We had three full days in Singapore, part of the package offered by the travel agency chartering the flights. Transport was waiting for us at the airport to whisk us to a very opulent hotel by our standards. It had a very large central lobby area which reached right to the roof, with plants and fountains playing.

All the landings looked down over this sort of internal courtyard. Our room was on the ground floor, and the window and balcony overlooked a typical South Asian building next door. Made primarily of wood with a large covered veranda, it stood off the ground on little stilts.

We soon discovered that the architecture in Singapore left a lot to be desired, and virtually none of it was what Westerners imagine as typically Chinese or Southeast Asian. Singapore was a modern Asian city with lots of soaring new skyscrapers, and the only concession to the local traditions was one octagonal modern office tower block which had a rather incongruous pagoda roof on top.

The older buildings which were left were more British Colonial than genuine Asian, and would have looked quite in place in any British city or, indeed, anywhere in Europe. Most of these were in Chinatown, the shrinking part of old Singapore on which the skyscrapers are fast encroaching. This was very like the Chinatowns in any Western city, the only local variation to the terraced houses with shops beneath being that the upper stories formed a covered arcade for the sidewalks beneath. This was also true of the Indian quarter which we visited briefly, but here the covered sidewalks were blocked by merchandise such as colorful saris, making it almost impossible to walk. This jumble and the spicy curry smells did not appeal to George, so we left the area quickly.

Chinatown was more interesting, and nearby we found perhaps the only typically Asian building of our entire stay in Singapore. It was a Hindu temple, with extremely ornate carvings inside and out, all very brightly painted. From the street the temple was amazing, with a very impressive gateway surmounted by a sort of elongated pyramid of statues on six different levels. We were pleasantly surprised that we were allowed into the temple grounds and even into the temple itself. There were various buildings, with ornate domes and colored statues on their roofs. In one little domed building we could see the enormous carved and painted head of some deity staring at us through the open door. The head was so large it covered one wall of the building and most of the space inside. In the main building were more painted statues, and a colorful painted ceiling. Like a mosque, there were just mats on the floor and no seats. This building was the most exciting we had seen on this trip, and made us feel we were really in Asia, even though it was on the very edge of the old Chinatown and was therefore surrounded by modern tower blocks on at least two sides.

Nearby we came to a shopping precinct, and there I bought a new shoulder bag. My old ‘Jetsave’ one which I’d gotten free from the airline on one of our American trips had finally given up the ghost and ended up in a wastepaper bin in our Singapore hotel.

Eating was a big problem for George in Singapore. Apart from not liking any Asian food, anything spicy or with onions, garlic or curry, his mouth was very sore again and full of ulcers. It seemed it had been bad since we were lying on that sandy beach in Manly. I ate one meal in a restaurant whilst George just sat at the table with a drink. A friend had told us of a posh hotel where you could get a very good and reasonable breakfast once a week, and on my insistence we went along on the special day, but no way would George go in. True, we felt uncomfortable in posh hotels and restaurants, but with his mouth being so sore he just couldn’t have ate anything anyway. Once I had breakfast in our rather up market hotel, and it was bloody awful. All the food seemed to be half cold and overcooked. From then on we relied mainly on McDonalds, and even then George would only have a drink. The only thing I remember him eating during our three days in Singapore was a portion of cooked chicken we got from a stall on Sentosa Island, which we ate sitting on a nearby bench.
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We went to have a look at the famous Raffles Hotel, but it was all boarded up because it was being rebuilt, so we had to make do with the ultra-modern Raffles Shopping Mall opposite, which wasn’t quite the same thing. We were in Singapore for Chinese New Year, which meant there were extra decorations everywhere for the incoming year of the horse. We saw on the river by the market place lots of little boats colorfully decorated for the New Year celebrations. We strolled through this market, and I bought a couple of t-shirts. On one side of the river were some imposing colonial buildings and a statue of Raffles, and on the other side by the market was a row of old terraced buildings almost being pushed into the river by the huge skyscraper blocks behind.

If we wanted to see typical Chinese architecture we should have visited the Chinese Garden set in a park on the outskirts of the city, but we didn’t see much point if it was all artificial anyway. We’d already seen such a garden in Sydney’s Darling Harbor.

Instead we visited Sentosa Island. This was a little paradise George had discovered for me. I say for me, as he was anxious I should get some more swimming in before we arrived home and back to Winter, and there seemed to be very few beaches in Singapore, which is a busy port for shipping.

Always when we went abroad George would obtain books about the places we were visiting from the local library before we left, and by reading these he had discovered the existence of this little island used by the Japanese during the Second World War as a P.O.W. camp. It was now something of a tourist recreation area, and was reached by a very high cable car from the main Singapore island. For some reason George had no qualms about going on this cable car, even though it must have been about 200 feet above the street, buildings and sea below. On disembarking we each got a little souvenir gift, mine being a plastic fan long since lost and George’s a matchbox-like little house, which I still have on our bedroom shelf.

On the island was a large building containing lots of fast food outlets, and near here we got the chicken which was George’s only proper meal of our entire stay. From the main building was a walkway lined with trees, which had various fountains playing. Circling the island was a monorail, and we had a ride on this. At one corner of the island monorail circuit was a rather tacky reproduction of a Second World War scene complete with gunshot sound effects and models of British and Japanese soldiers supposedly engaged in a shootout.

At the far side of the island we disembarked from the monorail, by a very tropical-looking lagoon surrounded by palm trees, with a fantastic curving beach of almost pure white sand. It was one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen, and not too crowded. Just beyond a wall and walkway was the open sea, but this lagoon was separated from it to form a little salt water lake with no waves (or sharks), perfect for swimming. We spent a very pleasant, hot afternoon by this lagoon, I got in plenty of swimming and even George had a paddle – something he couldn’t do on the Australian surfer beaches with their huge waves.

Apart from Sentosa Island and the Hindu temple, we weren’t all that impressed with Singapore, but the subway system was another exception. It was ultra-modern, with the platforms completely sealed off from the lines by partitions, a design now adopted for the London Jubilee Line extension. The train doors lined up exactly with sliding doors in these partitions so you, in effect, stepped from an underground room into the train. This prevented people falling or jumping off the platforms, and presumably kept the whole system very clean. Stations were announced by loudspeakers in each carriage, a practice also adopted by some London Tube lines. Not so clean were the streets around our hotel, where an all-pervading smell of raw sewage attacked one’s nostrils. This odor came from a ditch or stream alongside the road, which obviously served as an open sewer.

I toyed with the idea of crossing the bridge into Malaysia, and although there was a local bus which went via this bridge to a nearby town on the Malaysian mainland, I decided against it in the end. I thought there might be a lot of hassle with passports and Customs regulations, and I had visions of my being pulled off the bus for not having a visa or something, and being stranded on the bridge unable to get transport back. Had the subway gone there I would have risked it just to have a brief look at another Asian country.

It was with some relief we boarded the plane on the Wednesday for our final leg home. We got no smoking seats this time, and the film showing was ‘The Dead Poets’ Society’ which we both enjoyed. We made a fuel stop in Bahrain again, and then we were on our way to Luton airport and the long journey home from there.
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It had been a very memorable trip indeed, one of the high points of our many trips abroad together. The Australian trip was our most adventurous, and marked the climax of some 20 years of joint globe-hopping. It is somehow comforting that even if I travel to the other side of the world, it is somewhere I have been with George. For that very reason, as I’ve said, I have no desire to go there again at the moment.

As George wrote in his last letter to his sister, just before he died: ‘I have been everywhere I want to go’. This summed up the Australian trip for us, the culmination of a lifetime’s travel. We would perhaps have liked to see South America, but it was a troubled continent and once having made it to Australia we were quite content. As for Asia, Singapore had quite put us off that continent, and Africa didn’t really appeal to us either. For one thing, George felt he simply wouldn’t be able to eat anything in any of those places where they go in for spicy foods. Also, he felt very uncomfortable with the idea of being a rich tourist in the poor Third World with beggars and street children all around. I think he’d rather have given the money we would have spent on such a trip to Oxfam, since we couldn’t enjoy a holiday amidst such poverty.

Back home, we got all our Australian photos redeveloped. We’d had some done in Sydney at one of those 24 hour places, but both George’s and mine had come back so dark we decided to send the negatives off again for a new set of prints when we got home. They came out perfect, and since then I have avoided all 24 hour photo processing shops like the plague. George’s friend, Jimmy, brought our cat back from Aldershot a few days later, and told us she had quite enjoyed her holiday too. As I sat in our flat I thought that somewhere, far beneath our feet, may be one of the places we had visited in Australia.

Not having a job to go back to, George was anxious to at least get back to his voluntary work for Oxfam. He went for a formal interview in early March, and started the next day. This was at an Oxfam shop in Ealing which also specialized in second-hand records. He worked there several days a week for a long time, but eventually felt unable to go anymore in case the DHSS said he was making himself ‘unavailable for full-time paid work’ by doing voluntary work. During his time at the Ealing shop he felt rather unhappy that he was now working under a shop leader again, having been in charge of the Chelsea shop. However, George’s flair for this type of work came to the fore as he rearranged displays and pushed up sales.

I remember him telling me one story about a humorless couple who staffed the shop at weekends, and who wrote petty criticisms and comments in the staff book about the way the shop was run in the week. George wrote a strong reply, and signed it ‘Dockyard Doris’, which was the stage-name of a drag artist we both liked. The woman who wrote all the critical comments took it perfectly seriously, apparently not realizing that anyone who signed themselves in this manner was pulling her leg, and her critical reply began: ‘Dear Doris….’. I went with George one Saturday to take a look at this woman and her male assistant, neither of whom George had ever actually met. We both imagined a sour-faced middle-aged or elderly woman, but were surprised to find a young couple. One look at them, however, told us they had no sense of humor whatsoever.

On my birthday George had to go for an interview with the Department of Employment in connexion with their so-called Skills Center. It was a complete waste of time. Being in has late 40s with no university degree and in a line of work, telex, now obsolete, George had little chance of ever finding another decent job. The DHSS and Department of Employment offered no serious skill training to him whatsoever, but wanted George, and others like him, to just sit in a smoke-filled Job Center all day reading newspaper adverts and applying for jobs. He already did this at home, and there was no way he could sit in a room with smokers due to his chronic throat condition. Ironically, if he had only known he was HIV positive he would have received all sorts of allowances and financial benefits.

Early on in his last bout of unemployment, possibly this interview, a totally incompetent person asked George what his line of work was, and he explained that it was telex but this was fast becoming obsolete.

‘Oh no,’ replied the interviewer confidently, ‘We have loads of telex jobs.’ She disappeared for a moment and then returned with a pile of positions for telesales, selling products over the phone. A more unsuitable job for George she couldn’t have chosen – he was shy on the phone, self-conscious about his soft voice (he wouldn’t even record a greeting on our answering machine because he didn’t like the sound of his own voice), and he was not the pushy salesman type, hating this kind of commercialism.

The interviewer was completely stumped when George told her that telex was nothing whatsoever to do with telesales, but when he explained it involved typing she clutched at the straw eagerly, nodding her head and saying:

‘Oh, you can type. We have many typing jobs.’

George sighed in exasperation, and tried once again to explain that he needed training since he couldn’t use a word processor or a typewriter, telex being a very specialized form of keyboard with only upper case characters and very limited punctuation. All this was lost on the stupid woman, who refused point blank to offer him any training.
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The most annoying thing about it all was that George knew damn well he could do her own job much better that she could. He was no racist, but several times he applied for jobs at the Department of Employment and each time he had to fill in a form stating his ethnic background. He felt ticking the box marked ‘White’ deprived him of any chance of getting the job. He never even got an interview with the Department, yet Asians who didn’t know the difference between telex and telesales and cared even less, were telling him to find a job whilst denying him any training to enable him to do so.. It was enough to make anyone suicidal, and George was already in deep depression.

Even worse, George had always wanted to go to university, and was quite intelligent enough to get a degree. The logical thing at this stage in his life would have been to return to full-time education as a mature university student. However, this option is reserved for the upper and middle classes in full-time employment. Working class people who are unemployed are not welcome as mature students, so the option is never offered to them. Instead wealthy middle class people were at that time given grants to return to university for a year or two to study something totally useless to society, which would never get them a job and which they just felt like doing ‘to have a change from working’ or ‘as a hobby’. I know because I’ve talked to them, and they have told me that universities don’t want unemployed people as mature students. It is an absolute disgrace and the whole system is in need of a drastic overhaul.

George wanted more than anything to work in a library, as he already knew a lot about literature. Had he been helped to go university as a mature student he could have studied for a degree in Librarianship leading to a job in a library and ceased to be a burden on the State, but he received no help or encouragement whatsoever.

It was also annoying that free weekly magazines full of job vacancies were never distributed to Job Centers, but were handed out at train and tube stations in the rush hours to those already in full-time employment. Everything is geared against the unemployed, and the then Tory government’s only interest was in getting them off the official unemployment register. If they sat in a Job Center looking at newspapers once a week applying for jobs under the eye of a government employee they were officially receiving ‘training’ and were therefore technically not unemployed. George refused to comply with this charade, and the authorities refused to give him any useful training whatsoever, yet he could have been a very useful member of society again with a university degree given a bit of official help and encouragement. How many others are there out there in a similar position?
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George was investigating courses he could go on to try and train for something, since the Department of Employment were so unhelpful. He wrote down ‘Pitman College, Holborn’ in his diary, but this came to nothing. The fees for commercial courses would be beyond the means of an unemployed person anyway.

Round about the end of May/beginning of June our little cat, Trixie, whom we had ‘rescued’ from my mother’s old place in Kilburn, started showing signs of a similar paralysis of the back legs which our previous cat, Dixie, had suffered in 1986 shortly before he died. We took Trixie to the Blue Cross, where they said she was dehydrated and gave her massive fluid injections.

We hoped against hope that she would recover. We tried to feed her water with a mouth syringe the Blue Cross had given us, but we both wept as we knew it was hopeless. She had never been a well cat, and now it seemed to be all over. One day in June we admitted we would have to say goodbye to another cat.

On that fateful day we sat tearful in the waiting room whilst they administered the lethal injection in another room. A woman sitting with her own pet saw we were upset and started asking us about Trixie. She gave us some words of comfort by pointing out that, although we had only had her a short time, we had given her a good home for the last two years of her life. This boosted our spirits a little bit, but it was heartbreaking to lose another baby so soon. This is what our cats were to us, our babies, part of our family unit.

Later in June George had an appointment at St Thomas’s Hospital. He was getting increasingly deaf, and finally plucked up courage to get it investigated. During several visits to St Thomas’s, on which I accompanied him since he was terrified of hospitals, they syringed his ears and fitted him with a hearing aid. He very rarely wore it, but the syringing itself helped matters a great deal.

On Saturday June 30th we went to Kennington Park for the Gay Pride Festival, and to see the march arrive. We always went to the Festival in the park, if only to see Lily Savage, the acid-tongued Liverpudlian drag queen who used to have a cabaret tent of her own. The events on the main stage rarely interested us, but we used to browse around the stalls and have a drink and perhaps a snack at the café in the park, steering well clear of the ‘pink pound’ merchants trying to rip us off at the food and drink stalls.
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Ever year there seemed to be more and more screaming brats as supposedly gay women wheeled them around in pushchairs. George remarked on the irony of it all – how could they be real lesbians if they slept with men in order to have children? If they had them by artificial insemination it was just as bad. The world was already overpopulated, and there were millions of orphans in need of parents, so why go to such lengths to increase the population still further at the taxpayers’ expense on the NHS? To us kids were totally alien to the gay lifestyle – monsters from Hell who were part and parcel of being cursed heterosexual.

We suspected many of these lesbians were either only pretending to be gay because they thought it trendy and politically correct, or more likely they were out to grab all they could from the State. A brat meant family allowance and probably a council flat, and they also considered it politically correct for all women, gay or not, married or single, to indulge their natural maternal feelings. However, to us, it just didn’t seem like Gay Pride anymore with all these sprogs accompanied by their mothers – it was all part of the family Hell we were trying to escape from.

We both had little time for strident feminists, such as Linda Bellos of Lambeth Council. Surely not her real name, George maintained, as ‘Bellos’ meant ‘War’. In July 1990, following publication of a Free Page by Wages Due Lesbians, we both had letters published in ‘Capital Gay’ under pseudonyms for fear of the Lesbian backlash. I reproduce them here:

‘Hi-jacking the Gay Movement
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Dear Editor, I am grateful to “Capital Gay” for allowing “Wages Due Lesbians” a free page (July 6th) in which to express their policies and activities, since by their own words, they have proved themselves to be a minority group of militant, feminist, anarchist agitators who have hijacked the gay movement to promote extremism, just as they infiltrated the peace movement in 1987 and created a state of civil war with moderate feminists and pacifists in the women’s peace camps.

Their activities even alienated them from Camden Council who stopped funding their centre after initially supporting it.

Why lesbians should set themselves up as a separate exploited minority who demand wages for housework, is irrational. What about “wages for hen-pecked husbands who do housework”? The only work WDL seem to do is create a continual state of conflict with everything and everyone around them.

They even protested to the Gay Pride Committee about the 30 pound charge for a stall in Kennington Park. They seem to forget that the suffragette movement grew in strength because they believed in independence for women. But WDL argue in reverse, since they want to be dependent on ratepayers and taxpayers for State subsidies, social security, lesbian centres, test-tube babies, council housing, even going so far as to expect the gay movement to pay for their stall at the Pride Carnival.

What they advocate is parasitical propaganda. They complain about the hostility of heterosexual society, yet create alienation by advocating anarchy. WDL claim to represent blacks, gays, prostitutes, pacifists, environmentalists, and women, but the majority in these movements do not identify or wish to associate with this tiny splinter group of mindless militants who do more harm than good to their causes. Yours sincerely, Peter Odera, Brixton, SW2.’ (George’s letter).

‘It’s All Just Tory Propaganda.

Dear Editor, I was rather concerned to see you give a free page to the presumably Tory propaganda group, “Wages Due Lesbians”. Of course, they may claim to be a genuine lesbian pressure group, but no-one could be expected to take seriously any organization with a name like that – it is obviously thought up by Tory propagandists to provoke the maximum anti-gay sentiment. Watch out for “Local Councils Owe Gay Men Wages For Doing Housework” as a future Tory ploy to blame gays for high poll tax bills.

Imagine the impact on the poorer sections of society like pensioners and hard-working low wage-earners on being arrogantly told that they owe lesbians money for “the additional physical and emotional housework of surviving in a hostile and prejudiced society”. What on Earth is “emotional housework”? If trying to play on heterosexual men’s guilt feelings for their treatment of women, “emotional blackmail” would be a more apt phrase. While married women should indeed have a legal right to claim wages from those exploiting husbands who get all their housework done for them for free, lesbians, single women and men are more fortunate in being able to claim unemployment benefit or income support when not in paid employment – a right denied to married women.

Another quotation published on last week’s free page refers to “the unwaged work that lesbian women have in common with other women”. Why just women? Gay men also do unwaged housework, as do single heterosexual men, widowers and enlightened married men. Should we all be paid by the State for doing our own housework? Why should the State care if we stop doing this unpaid work and are content to live in squalor and eat off unwashed dishes, or in cafes if we don’t want the unpaid chore of shopping? Sincerely, John Clift, Wood Green, N22.’ (Tony’s letter).

Sometime that summer I got a real scare, which was perhaps a dress rehearsal for what was to occur just over a year later. George rang me at work, obviously in great distress, and asked me to get a taxi home immediately and take him to St Thomas’s Casualty department. He was suffering terrible stomach pains, and was obviously scared he was going to die. He had been drinking quite a bit lately, and I know he had fears he might have damaged his liver.

As I rushed home terrible thoughts ran through my head as I hoped I wouldn’t arrive too late. I tried to imagine life without George, and couldn’t face it. I got home and took George to the hospital, where we had to sit in Casualty for ages. When George finally got seen the doctor was very unsympathetic, and virtually told him off for wasting the hospital’s time. He just had a rather severe case of food poisoning. It was a great relief to us, and George put it down to some pie and mash he had eaten in a shop a few days before, which he felt had tasted a bit strange at the time.

This little drama is extremely significant, since it shows, when faced with a potential health crisis, George was willing to call me at work to take him to a hospital for treatment, even though he feared and distrusted hospitals. The fact that he so desperately avoided going to hospital or even seeing a doctor during the final stages of his terminal illness can surely only testify that he suspected what was wrong with him (AIDS), and didn’t want it confirmed. To protect both himself, me, our friends and families he would have preferred to suffer alone and die undiagnosed. He always said he would go to hospital as a last resort if he really had to, and the fact that he avoided it during his last months and weeks when he knew he was so ill contrasts strongly with this desperate plea for me to leave work and take him to hospital at the first pangs of stomach pain from eating a gone off pie. It took great courage for him to visit Casualty on this occasion – his father had died from cancer, and it must have crossed George’s mind that his abdominal pain could have been a symptom of that disease. However, obviously cancer didn’t have the stigma for him that HIV-infection did.

Early in August we went down to Brighton one Sunday and we saw a gay revue at the Pavilion Theater called ‘Cabaret Cares’. We arrived back at Clapham Junction in the early hours of the morning to find an old lady wandering around in the street on the edge of our estate. She was confused, and we were worried she might get mugged or run over. There was an old people’s home nearby, but she insisted she didn’t live there. She claimed to have a flat of her own, but that she had locked herself out. Her social worker had taken the only key to the premises in order to stop the old lady wandering outside.

One of us stayed with the old woman whilst the other went to our flat to call the police. They didn’t really want to know, but eventually the fire brigade arrived and with the help of a ladder got into the woman’s upstairs flat through a partly opened window and managed to carry her in, since she had great difficulty climbing the stairs herself.

George was incensed by the thought of this old lady living on her own when totally incapable, and even more angry with the social worker who took the only key to the premises, making the woman a prisoner in her own home, and insuring if she did go out she would be trapped.  He wrote the council social services department complaining about it, and they wrote back explaining that it was a very difficult situation and they could not force anyone into sheltered accommodation against their will, but thanking us for our help and concern.

On September 21st we were off to Lloret again, unknown to us for the last time together. It was a night flight leaving Gatwick at ten to midnight.

As we arrived at our hotel in Lloret we immediately noticed a difference to the main street nearby, leading down from the bus station to the sea. The ‘canal’ (containing only a trickle of water in the summer) had been covered over so the roads which ran each side were now joined together to make a wide thoroughfare. Otherwise Lloret was much the same, and we did all the usual things during our two week stay.

We visited nearby Tossa De Mar, fed the stray cats of Lloret up on the cliffs, and we took a bus trip to Barcelona, where we again visited the Sagrada Familia. This time we sat in the little park opposite the original nativity facade and had a peaceful view of Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece from across a lake. We also visited one of Gaudi’s other buildings, the Casa Mila. We had been on the fantastic roof of this building on an earlier trip, but this time we were able to see inside as they had an exhibition on one of the floors. It was a big disappointment as little of Gaudi’s original interior was left. Much of the undulating ceiling had been removed or boxed in with ceiling tiles. It was depressing, and all we could hope was that it would be restored some day. The most interesting feature was the original balcony, to which we were able to gain access and study in close detail the molding of the building itself and the wrought ironwork on the balcony. I wanted George to pose for a picture on the balcony, or looking out of the window, but he was irritable and wanted to leave. I soon found out why, his mouth was hurting very badly.

The mouth ulcers (oral thrush) which were a symptom of the dreadful disease which would steal him from me a year later were causing him great pain that day, and we left the Casa Mila in search of a pharmacy. We got some ointment for his mouth, but it only gave temporary relief as we boarded the bus back to Lloret.

Of course I didn’t see this mouth trouble as a symptom of anything serious, as all such thoughts were immediately pushed to the back of my mind as fanciful nonsense. I was in denial, but I can’t honestly say whether George had the same attitude or whether he just pretended he didn’t know it could be a symptom of HIV infection for my sake.
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There was, however, another chilling omen of his terminal illness a year later. As we were walking up a little street near our hotel in Lloret, George suddenly looked around, and I knew something was wrong. He told me he had heard someone call his name, and as he looked around he saw our deceased former next door neighbor, Levy, waving at him. He shuddered and said that it was Death calling. Needless to say I couldn’t see anyone waving, and I certainly never heard anyone call his name.

When I visited Lloret again after George’s death I studied the spot where George had said he saw Levy waving and calling his name, and it was outside a bar with the word ‘L’avi’ in its name, written above the door, which of course was very similar to Levy’s name. I cannot remember the exact date or time George saw and heard this psychic phenomenon, but it would have been a year before he lay on his deathbed. It could even have been the very day, hour and minute of his death a year later. I think it was late afternoon, and George died just before 5pm.

The only really unusual thing we did on this holiday was to go on the annual Catalonian walk right through Lloret, and across rugged countryside each side. We had to register to take part, and then rise early to be on Lloret beach for the boats to take us to the start of the walk. To keep us going we had the promise of some free wine and a sardine barbecue at the end. We went on this walk on September 30th, the day before we flew home and the first day of George’s last year on Earth. Certainly there was little wrong with him that day as we completed the grueling walk, at times having to haul ourselves up steep hillsides with the help of a rope banister. As we neared the end it started to rain, and we arrived at the beach where they were holding the barbecue to find queues a mile long for some fly-blown sardine and tomato sandwiches. These were nothing like English ones, as the sardines were large fish baked over a grill, and served in French-style bread with a hot tomato. However, neither of us could face them as flies were swarming all over the food, so we made do with some wine, and boarded the boat back to Lloret, feeling we had achieved something by completing the route, which took all day. Less than a year later, in Jersey, George would not even be able to walk up a slight incline without resting and panting for breath, but this day he successfully completed a marathon.
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We had booked our hotel room for an extra night so we could spend our last day on the beach without worrying about our luggage. That evening we caught a flight to Gatwick, and George said goodbye to Lloret for what was to be his last time. I went back once with Rose, and was sorry I did. Everything had changed, our favorite eating and drinking places gone, and there were reminders of George everywhere. I vowed never to go back again.

Later that year I spotted an item in the gay press saying that the Channel 4 program ‘Out On Tuesday’ was looking for gays whose homes reflected their lifestyle. They were seeking unusual decoration, etc. for a light-hearted touch to offset the hardship depicted in a serious feature about the housing problems of gay men and lesbians. I wrote off, and the program makers paid us a visit in November to look at George’s collages. The director and producer came and were very impressed, arranging a date for filming. They explained it would only be a short piece to supplement the program’s main stories.

One Saturday in November we went on a demonstration against the Gulf War, now looming up ahead of us following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. A few days later we went to the Blue Cross Animal Hospital in Victoria, which had claimed two of our cats over the last four years, and got ‘Tibby’ (named by George after an aunt of his), the friend who was so precious to me for many years after George died.

We decided before we went that if there was any cat which was lame, injured or deformed in any way we would take that one, since many people might refuse it. There was indeed a cat with a bad leg, but George knew Tibby was the cat for us as soon as he saw her. He had an affinity with animals, and he just knew how affectionate she was. When we saw her she had a big plastic collar around her neck. She had just been spayed, and it turned out she was pregnant so she lost her kittens.

The Blue Cross told us someone had brought her in saying she was a stray, but they suspected it was his cat and he brought her in because she was pregnant. They said he knew too much about her for her to be a stray, and they said she was 6 years old. We never believed this since she was so small; we thought she was much younger, just a year or two old. But years later she was no bigger, so possibly that was her correct age when we got her. (If so, she lived to be 22).

She loved and was loved by both George and myself, and after he died she was  such a friend and comfort to me. It was as if George chose a companion for me to see me through the dark days ahead without him, and he couldn’t have chosen a better one. He must have known he wouldn’t be around long because as we lay in bed some nights with the cat next to us, or snuggled up under the covers between us, he would pet and stroke her in his own special way and tell me to watch as I would have to do it when he wasn’t around. I  tried, but I never  succeeded in petting her the way he did. He had that special touch which I could never learn. Many of my memories of George are of him petting cats and dogs all round the world, who all responded to him in a special way. He should have worked with animals.

In December the film crew from Channel 4 arrived at 8.30 in the morning and were there for most of the morning. It took a huge crew with a light set up on a pole in the garden below (which belonged to another flat) shining through our window to film the music room collage, and then they could only film one wall properly. Since this wasn’t the wall with any gay images, George had to alter all his collage so they could get these in.

We sat on the couch looking (or pretending to look) at a Dolly Parton album cover (from the local record library). This was because the collage had a musical theme, and the room was where we listened to our records. They then asked us if we would be willing to kiss each other. George said yes, and I agreed, but George told me afterwards I had such a look of horror on my face it was as if they had said I was about to be shot.

This may not be too far from the truth as it was the last thing I expected. To go on a gay TV program is one thing, to kiss in public is something else, but to kiss on TV in front of millions is something else again. I remembered George’s cousin who thought it was a moral outrage for a man and woman to kiss in public – what on Earth would she think if she saw us kissing on TV?

I wanted all our friends and relations to see the program, but we were always very careful in front of our families never to kiss or show physical signs of affection in public. It would embarrass them and us, and as I state above, even if we were a heterosexual couple it would be frowned on in some quarters.
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Anyway, I agreed, but I was not happy about it as it seemed to restrict the number of people we could tell to watch the program. George’s cousin was off the list for a start. Also, I didn’t know how my mother would react, or my aunt. They knew we were gay, but to have it rammed down their throats by us kissing on TV, when we wouldn’t dream of kissing in their presence, seemed to need some explanation. George saw it quite differently: it was a gay program so it was natural we should kiss.

Ideally, gays should be able to hold hands and kiss in public, but this kind of behavior even by straight couples can be highly embarrassing for third parties. To kiss on TV has the added very real danger of encouraging homophobic attacks. If someone anti-gay recognized us on TV in a gay program that might encourage them to shout some abusive remark, but if they actually saw us kissing I was afraid it could rile them and incite them to violence. Suppose some gang waylaid me or George and beat us up or murdered us one night just because they had seen us kissing on TV?

All these things had to be considered, and I thought the TV crew were quite wrong to spring this on us without notice or time to discuss and consider the implications. When two male characters in the soap EastEnders kissed on screen  it caused a big rumpus in the tabloids, yet here were we expected to break the taboos on TV without any warning whatsoever, or even the defense that we were acting. It was a huge decision to make, but we had only seconds to make it. In the event we did it, and it led to a row between me and George afterwards. Trying to prepare my mother for what she might see on screen when I was talking to her on the phone about the filming I said: ’We had to do what they told us’ or words to that effect.

George blew his top: ‘This film could be our obituary’, (so he obviously did know he was dying), ‘and you are ashamed to kiss me, and you tell your mother you had to do it because they told us to.’

Okay, so I chose my words badly, but what I meant was we didn’t get on camera in a TV program about gay housing featuring George’s collage and just decide to make an exhibition of ourselves by kissing. It was suggested to us by the film crew, and we agreed to do it. This is how George wanted me to put it, but I have never been good at the spoken word or on the phone. It often comes out all wrong, which is why I prefer to write things down.

This row still hurts me deeply, as the film did indeed prove to be our obituary. The kiss was never shown, although the director later told us it was ‘the sweetest kiss’ she had ever seen on screen. This was because we kept kissing (we had to do the shot over and over) and then saying ‘I love you’ looking into each other’s eyes and really meaning it. George was very upset when they only showed a few seconds of the collage, with a glimpse of us on the couch looking at the Dolly Parton album – blink and you could have missed us. I suppose I was secretly relieved that the kiss wasn’t broadcast, because of the reaction it might cause particularly from George’s cousin and possibly my mother, not to mention homophobic people or gangs I or George might meet in the street.
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I suppose I was a coward, but it did seem slightly out of context. I felt we were making enough of a coming out statement by appearing together in a gay program as a couple, without kissing on screen. In reality we kissed each other on the lips very seldom, probably once a year at New Year, or perhaps on birthdays. So not only was it a false picture of how we normally behaved, I felt we were being exploited for sensationalism by the film crew. After all, they could have asked us if we were willing to kiss weeks ago when they visited us and let us talk it over, not sprung it on us at the last moment.

Now, of course, I am glad we did it, as I have a permanent record of our love (I eventually managed to purchase the unedited video, complete with the repeated kissing, from the video company after George’s death). I have even showed the tape to my mother, but would never show it to his cousin (who has since died), and I would still have qualms about it being broadcast.

I have since met a married guy who cares about me and used to kiss me in public without even thinking, it is so normal for him. I now try to cope with it without worrying, but you never know if a gang of homophobes might see and react in a violent way. Still, I feel I am learning a lesson and helping to overcome prejudice and gain acceptance for public shows of affection between men whenever I do it. Kissing in public has never been taboo for two women.

The film crew also shot George’s toilet collage with great difficulty because of the lack of space, but this footage wasn’t used. The filters and camera angles they used left a lot to be desired, and the toilet shots on the unedited video did not come out well at all. Lack of sufficient light could have been another problem.

The main collage came our perfectly on a hand-held camera in an amateur video done by a friend of George’s at Oxfam, to which I added a musical soundtrack of George’s choosing to fit the collage pictures (which unfortunately only worked properly on the original videotape).

It goes to show all that paraphernalia and huge film crew was a complete waste of time and money – the hand held camera got much better results, no collage pictures had to be moved and much, much greater detail was shown. All you could see in the TV video was a section of the collage from a distance, with no close-ups at all. Of the two videos, this amateur one is far superior and captures the detail of the collage. The TV video is precious to me as a record of our love, and the best moving (but unfortunately silent) pictures I have of George. I am sorry the kiss will forever be marred by that argument, but I still maintain it was a very brave thing for both of us to do, and that if shown on TV it could have broken relations with his cousin for good, and possibly caused one or both of us aggro on the streets in the days following the broadcast.

That last Christmas we could have spent together I went to my mother’s, who was now back in Welwyn Garden City. I felt I had to be with her that year as we were away in Germany the year before and had already booked Christmas in Paris for 1991. George chose to ‘ignore Christmas’, as he put it, so was on his own with just Tibby our cat for company. (Once when my mother asked what we were planning to do for Christmas George couldn’t resist saying ‘ignore it’, much to her annoyance.)

We did go down to Hastings together for New Year. It was nothing very exciting. We had been promised a party in the straight pub almost next door to where Neil and Rose live, but in the event it was a very quiet evening, not like New Year at all. As we sat in the bar a man who looked like a tramp started talking to George. Midnight came and went with barely a murmur, just a few ‘Happy New Year’s.

Eventually, about 2 a.m., the crowd was thinning out a bit and we were invited upstairs to this special party for the pub regulars. Naturally we expected free drinks and food, only to find the bar had simply been transferred upstairs, and there we were sat in a corner expected to pay for drinks with very little food in evidence at all. Whenever a plate of sandwiches did appear everyone swooped on it like vultures and it was stripped bare in seconds. After managing to grab about one sandwich each and paying for several drinks, we decided we’d had enough and went back to Rose and Neil’s flat. Here, I presume, I got my last New Year’s kiss from George, though I’m afraid I can’t remember now. He always did kiss me at New Year, and I can hardly imagine him doing it in the straight pub, even if he was willing to do it for the TV cameras. But the important thing was we saw the New Year in together, little knowing (for my part at least) that it was to be the last year we would see in together. By the end of the year I would be an AIDS widower, facing the possibility of a life of loneliness and memories stretching endlessly ahead of me for maybe 40 or 50 years or so.

Into that fateful New Year of 1991, and on the last day of January we were once again part of the audience for the BBC’s ‘Question Time’, recorded at the Barbican Center. It was the height of the Gulf War and so many of the questions related to this. At the very end I managed to get in a supplementary question, or rather, a comment, and several people later said they saw both me and George. Of course we had recorded the program and played back the brief glimpse of ourselves and my nervous question/comment, but unfortunately we did not keep it.

Two days later there was a big anti-Gulf War demo in central London, and as we assembled by Big Ben a man I had never met recognized me from my brief TV appearance two days before, and said he agreed with my anti-Gulf War comment. This was my brief career as a TV celebrity, my ‘15 minutes of fame’ as described by Andy Warhol, though in this case it was more like 15 seconds.

In February we saw Chas and Dave, an act we saw several times and George was a member of their fan club. We loved Music Hall type entertainment, especially the songs, and of course this was typical Chas and Dave. Chas was also a great rock’n’roll and Jerry Lee Lewis fan, and even played guitar (not his usual piano) in Jerry’s backing group on one tour of the UK, and also duetted with him on an album track.

Years later, in 2009 after seeing the ‘Telstar’ biopic about Joe Meek, I spotted George in an old home movie of Joe Meek’s, the gay record producer. He’d got one of his groups, The Outlaws (which included Chas Hodges who later became one half of Chas and Dave), to dress as cowboys and ride in a stagecoach round the West End as a publicity stunt. This would have been in the very early 1960s, and a young George is seen running along beside the stagecoach, talking to someone inside, and running ahead with flyers in his hands. It is very likely he knew Joe Meek since George was a rent boy at the time, and possible he also knew met many of his artists.  It is almost certain he met Chas Hodges and the rest of The Outlaws on that publicity stunt.

On Friday March 1st we were due to fly out of Gatwick early in the morning for Austria to begin a tour which included Czechoslovakia and Hungary, our first and last venture together into the new post-Communist Eastern Europe.

The night before, however, George was in a very difficult mood. Whether it was something to do with his HIV+ condition I don’t know, but he certainly acted strangely in those last few months on several occasions. He had not done any packing or preparations, and was just laying in bed asleep. This was totally out of character for he just lived for his holidays and loved preparing for them. I kept trying to wake him and get him to start packing, but he just kept saying infuriatingly that he didn’t want to go and that I should go on my own.

I was desperate, and whined ‘Don’t do this to me’, but he just would not budge. Eventually he admitted that if he went he was afraid the plane would crash. Apparently Roy, who had died of a heart attack some time ago, had planted a hypnotic suggestion in George’s mind that once Roy had died George would follow soon after. Tragically, this proved to be the case, but he was not to die in an air crash.

All I could do was pack George’s case for him, just hoping I had chosen the clothes and things he wanted. Early next morning I managed to get him up and on the train in time for the flight. From then on everything was OK, and we both enjoyed our last happy holiday together.

We flew to Linz airport a few hours before Jerry Lee Lewis (my favorite singer) was due to arrive there for a tour, but we couldn’t hang around as we had to board our tour coach to take us to Vienna. This was a city we had visited with Roy many years ago, soon after George and I met. Now we were paying a return visit just before we parted.

In early March the weather was quite cold and overcast, and we wore overcoats as we paid a return visit to the Schoenbrunn Palace and the nearby orangery. Our hotel was situated right in the center of Vienna on the main central ring road by a twin-spired church. Here, in the dining room, we got our first real look at another gay couple who were to become firm friends, Dirk and Paul.

As we were eating we discussed the fact that they looked like a gay couple, and remarked on the superficial similarity in appearance between the one with longish blond hair (Dirk) and our friend Andre, whose hair used to be in similar style, but brown. I wondered if we would get an opportunity to speak to them, and George said we should bide our time till we were a few days into the tour.

On the way out of Vienna en route to Budapest, the coach stopped in the suburbs so we could visit the Hundertwasserhaus, a very unusual 20th Century apartment block, in which many of the upper story flats had very rural looking gardens on the roofs of other apartments below. The whole complex looked very odd from the outside, with bits added on here and there in various architectural styles, with a garish color scheme in which the outside of each apartment was painted a different color. The overall impression was one of delightful anarchy and chaos: a pile of oversized brightly colored children’s building blocks with covered staircases added on, and trees, plants, statues, ornate chimneys, globes and onion domes sprouting from the various roof levels.

We went under an arch into the main courtyard, and inside to a souvenir shop. As I was looking at the postcards, George came over and showed me a little booklet filled with color pictures of the inside and outside of the building, with lots of detail. I regret to say this led to some harsh words from me, as I bought the book thinking it was much cheaper than it turned out to be, and then blamed George. I shouted something at him about how much it cost, but I am really sorry now as it was well worth it, whatever it cost. This was one of the architectural wonders of the modern world, and reminded us very much of Gaudi’s work in and around Barcelona.

We drove eastwards, crossed the Hungarian border and stopped for lunch at a town called Gyor, which had an impressive civic building. En route to Budapest we also passed an unusual restaurant which had the front part of an airliner emerging from its outer window. Whether the rest of the airliner was inside the restaurant I can’t say.

One of the things which had encouraged us to come to Budapest was a TV program which had shown the inside of St Mattias Church. When we arrived and saw the real thing it was something of a disappointment. A circular stained glass window set in a concentric swirl of colored marble or stonework we had seen on TV, but it looked rather small and less impressive in reality, and the outside of the gothic church was nothing special. The back view was the best, since the roof was visible with its colored mosaics. This facade overlooked Fisherman’s Bastion, a kind of white fortified wall with conical turrets. All these buildings were on a hill overlooking the Danube, and in the mist beyond one could see the Hungarian Parliament Building and other landmarks. The twin cities of Buda and Pest were divided by the Danube flowing between them.

We were staying in an hotel on one of the main thoroughfares, near a big railway terminus. A flyover for traffic went right below our window. The street was full of shops, many of them newly privatized since the fall of Communism. In the subways which led to the railway station and the metro, hawkers sold everything you could imagine. Old grannies would hold up dresses and other clothes, and you had to walk a gauntlet of people waving tatty rags and other shoddy goods in our faces. We later learned these people were mainly Romanians (or was it Romanies?) who came into Budapest each day to sell things in order to make a living, but with so little to sell it hardly seemed worth the bother. None of them had stalls, and each only seemed to have one or two tatty items to sell.

We went on a city tour, which visited the main war memorial and some castle-like building. Here we saw evidence of the fall of Communism in the shape of a stall selling military uniforms and badges from the old regimes of Eastern Europe as tourist souvenirs. Soviet Red Army fur caps sporting the hammer and sickle were a particularly popular line. (25 years earlier a Red Army shop in Nevsky Prospekt, Leningrad had refused to sell me a hammer and sickle red star badge because I wasn’t in the Soviet armed forces.)

On our first evening in Budapest we wandered around the streets before going in for our evening meal. This was held in a large room, with a small gipsy-type band playing. I think it was a trio, and certainly a violin featured prominently. This out of tune band assaulted our ear-drums whilst we ate, and then had the nerve to come round the table begging for money. George refused to give them anything. We were all sat round a huge circular table, and Dirk and Paul, the gay couple we had spotted in Vienna, were sitting near us. George laughed off the incident with the band, saying he liked good music but was not going to pay to hear an out of tune violin, or words to that effect. This broke the ice, and from then on we became friendly with Dirk and Paul.

In Budapest we found a lovely cake shop where you queued up for the most delicious cream cakes. We also managed to find a rather depressing self-service canteen, surely a left-over from Communist days since it looked so bleak and uninviting. We got a passable meal there, and it was at least very cheap.

Before leaving Budapest, I went off in search of Fats Domino. I had seen posters all over town announcing he would be playing, as I thought, that day, which I believe was March 4th. I eventually found the huge bleak stadium almost deserted, and after walking around for ages ventured into a little office and tried to explain to Hungarians who spoke no English that I was looking for the Fats Domino concert. I can’t remember how, but it gradually dawned on me that Maj 4 meant May 4th, not March 4th – I was two months too early for the concert! So I went back on the Metro to the hotel, where George was waiting in our hotel room, and sheepishly told him of my wasted journey.

Next day we set off and crossed into the short-lived Czecho-Slovak Federal Republic (which superseded the Czecho-Slovak Socialist Republic and preceded the separate Slovak and Czech republics). We stopped for lunch in Bratislava, soon to become the capital of the Slovak Republic. While the others had a meal in the hotel recommended by the tour guide, we decided to explore and had an excellent meal in a self-service restaurant, complete with beer and dessert, for a couple of pounds. We then had time to go round the back streets and alleyways sightseeing, and still be back at the coach before the others came out from what Dirk and Paul said was a rather expensive and unsatisfactory lunch. We told them about the self-service restaurant we had found, and they said they wished they had come with us. As we were to discover, they were not the least bit snobbish (or ‘piss-elegant’ as George would say), and as ready for a bargain as we were.

In Prague, our city sightseeing started off at a church which had also been a monastery, then we walked up to the Presidential Palace or Castle, where the new President, Vaclev Havel (former dissident poet) had decked the guards out in a very camp, theatrical uniform which included fur collars. We were taken inside to see a very old hall, and finally emerged in a street of miniature houses, now turned into tourist shops. In one of these houses once lived Kafka.

Whist in Prague we also visited the Apostle’s Clock and Tower, where figurines appear on the hour, nearby Town Square, the huge Wenceslas Square and Charles Bridge, now a pedestrian precinct, resplendent with its statues. We also found the big domed theater and adjoining gate tower very impressive, as was the Opera House where George, myself, Dirk and Paul all saw a Czech opera for £2.50 each, sitting in the best seats of the house. We went by tram under our own steam, but the next day our tour guide was offering seats for at least twice this. When we challenged her, she said the price differential was the cost of the coach to take people there and back. What she meant, of course, was that she charged everyone double the real price, and split the extra money with the coach driver. Since the Opera, like everything else in Czechoslovakia at the time, was so ridiculously cheap the tourists were still getting an incredible bargain.

Dirk and Paul became firm friends in Prague, and we walked around the city together, eating in a self-service restaurant we found and getting tremendous value for money. Dirk, Paul and George were amazed at the selection of classical records on sale at bargain prices and bought quite a few to take back home.

One thing George found was that the cobbled streets made his feet tired. It seemed on every holiday recently there was something wrong. In Barcelona six months earlier it had been George’s mouth problems, now it was his feet. I think I said something rather insensitive along these lines, for he apologized, but little did I know the next and last holiday we would take together, in Jersey in another six months, he would have something really wrong with him: a fatal kind of pneumonia which left him unable to walk the slightest incline or even shave without getting out of breath and exhausted.

In Prague, though, this nightmare was yet to come, and George had made two lifelong friends for me. Unlike many of George’s other friends who were now mine too, Dirk and Paul were an intelligent, responsible and stable couple who were able to reciprocate any hospitality offered.

George used to moan: ‘Why am I surrounded by lame ducks?’

I am not sure if I was included in that description, but certainly a lot of our friends fell into that category, constantly needing help and advice from George, some unable to find their way from A to B and too scared to venture outside their homes after dark, or go any distance without an escort. Among other things, George had helped a cleaner get a job as a telex operator and a middle-aged prostitute come off the game and get a steady job.

Dirk and Paul proved to be two friends whom we hit it off with. They had been together one year longer than us, and as we discovered in Prague, they were not snobs and enjoyed bargains such as self-service restaurants offering good cheap food. They also shared George’s love of the opera and classical music. It is tragic he only met someone of equal intelligence who shared his taste for good music and the fine arts just months before he died. However, he made two very good friends for me, and he knew it. As he lay dying, it was Dirk and Paul he told me to ring for support.

George was thinking of buying a pair of shoes in Prague since they were so cheap, but he never got around to it. I think we settled for a jar of coffee and some other small items, including a bottle of wine bought at the Hungarian-Czechoslovak border.

Soon after midday on Friday 8th we caught our plane from Prague airport back to London. It was to be the last flight we would ever take together, and the last time George was to set foot on Continental Europe.

We arrived back to thick snow on the ground, proven by the fact that I took a photo from our window of a snowman in the garden below our flat.

At Easter, which fell at the end of March, the visitors from Hell descended on us in the shape of George’s sister Betty, her son Charles, his wife Marion and their kids, who screamed non-stop throughout their entire stay. The parents and grandmother got plastered each night on cans of Special Brew. They insisted on having the windows and curtains open late into the night because our flat was ‘too warrum’ even in March/April, so all the neighbors could see and hear these antics which went on well into the early hours. (The children, both under 10, were never in bed before the parents at about 2 a.m.).

If the ‘weans’ were screaming at 1 a.m. in the morning, George would say something about keeping the noise down because of the neighbors, and Charles would bawl out at the top of his voice:

‘Hey yous, stop tha’ greetin’ else ah’ll belt yous’ which had absolutely no effect on the brats from Hell and only added to the disturbance the whole family were causing to the neighborhood, bringing a flavor of Glasgow’s notorious Easterhouse to London’s Battersea.

They arrived on Good Friday (or ‘Bad’ Friday as far as we were concerned), and on Easter Saturday we took them to the Bethnal Green Childhood Museum. They had driven down in the car, and were able to park it almost anywhere as it had a disabled sticker. This was because it belonged to Betty, who was disabled on account of a previous ankle injury and a serious heart condition (she’d had a heart bypass). As we were going into the lobby of the museum one of the kids ran out and nearly got run over in the driveway. This started an argument as Charles and Betty accused Marion of not keeping an eye on ‘her’ kids, though why she should be singled out for blame I don’t know. Obviously political correctness and the new man hadn’t reached Easterhouse.  Nevertheless Marion did seem to be in a sort of dream much of the time.

On the Sunday we took them to the Easter Parade in Battersea Park. (It turned out to be the last ever Parade, as Wandsworth Council, who had taken over the park from the old GLC, stopped it after that year.)

They spent ages getting ready, and dressing the little girl up in a beautiful silk purple dress with frills and bows. As we were walking to the park they stupidly decided to buy soft ice-creams for everyone, and of course the child immediately managed to get most of it down her expensive new dress, even before we got to the Parade. Once there, they showed no interest at all in the Parade and went off to the playground, whilst George and I watched the procession. We were absolutely furious, and said to them as we went to collect them from the playground what on Earth was the point of coming down to London if all they wanted to do was go to a playground. They could have done this back in Glasgow. The Easter Parade in Battersea Park was an event people traveled miles to see.

We escaped that evening, as Lily Savage was doing a show at the Playhouse Theater entitled ‘Not Another Command Performance’, but of course when we got back home another command performance was exactly what we got from the whole family visiting us.
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One day we took them to a City Farm at Shadwell which they enjoyed very much. On one visit to the East End (I think we may have done the farm and museum the same day) they insisted on stopping to get fish and chips in the Hackney Road, although we warned them fish and chips in London were usually not worth buying, and nothing like a Glasgow ‘fish supper’. They wouldn’t listen, so we had to sit in the car for about half an hour waiting and spent a fortune for what they admitted was the worst ‘fish supper’ they had ever tasted in their lives, and the dearest.

I can’t remember how long they stayed, but we were very relieved when they got in their car to start the long journey north. George wrote them a letter soon after saying we had been threatened with eviction because the neighbors had complained about the noise going on till the early hours. I don’t think Betty believed George, but he made it quite clear he didn’t want any more screaming brats brought down to our flat, and certainly not two of them at a time.

One Friday in mid April it was the 40th birthday of Red, Angel’s partner. The party was held in the 59 Club (the Rockers’ motorcycle social club founded by a vicar in 1959) and was then located off Hackney Road. Again George’s erratic behavior was apparent as he declined to come at the last minute, and I went on my own. He had recently also missed several cabaret appearances by ‘Dockyard Doris’, one of his favorite drag artists, then there was the reluctance to go on holiday at the last minute, and now this birthday party which he dropped out of without warning.

Every now and then I would come home and there would be a half-empty gin bottle on the coffee table. As likely as not George would be in bed asleep. The drinking bout would go on for a few days, during which time he would consume about a bottle a day. He would get very argumentative when drunk, and so I used to keep as quiet as possible. It was like walking on eggshells. He used to rant and rave at the TV, especially the news. I got worried about the neighbors myself, as he used to shout, and some of his remarks could be taken as quite offensive to people who didn’t know him. He would use strong language which sometimes suggested intolerance, but if ever he saw anybody in real trouble or need he would really put himself out to help them.

Once his drinking bout was over, he would stay off the booze for weeks at a time. I was worried for several reasons. It was a strain on me, worrying about the neighbors and saying the wrong thing which would upset him and send him off to bed in a huff. I was also worried about his health, and the effect on his liver. Also the sheer cost of 3 or 4 bottles of gin when he was on the dole.

On one occasion we were in bed after he had been drinking, and our little cat seemed reluctant to ‘kiss’ George as she often did. I made some insensitive remark about it might be the smell of the alcohol, and George was very hurt by it. He said it was a horrible thing to say. In retrospect, I suppose it was, but I didn’t mean it that way at the time.

He was worried about his intermittent drinking habits himself, and one day wrote me a note authorizing me to pour down the sink any alcohol I found on the premises. This really upset me as it was a cry for help, and yet I couldn’t do anything about it. If I did as he asked in the note it would not only cause an almighty row, but he would merely drink when I was out at work and try to hide the evidence from me. Already he did this on occasions, but I always knew when he had been drinking by his manner, and found the bottle hidden away somewhere. He confessed to me he too was worried about the effect on his liver, but of course I didn’t know the real reason for his acute depression and drinking. I thought it was just because he was out of a job for so long, which was bad enough, but I now think he suspected he was HIV+ and drank to escape facing the facts.

He had no-one he could confide in. He didn’t want to tell me, or any of his friends, and he was not the sort to seek counseling. He would counsel other people, but when it came to himself would not ask for help. Once he told me to be very careful to always practise safer sex as it would be terrible if one of us died of AIDS and had to explain this to friends and relatives.

All this worry about the possibility of being HIV+ and the reaction of myself, friends and relatives added to the pressure of being out of work with no job in sight, must have made him almost suicidal. No wonder he drank occasionally. On one occasion I even rang Alcoholics Anonymous and was told of a partners’ group I could join, but in the event I never went. On several occasions when he was in the middle of one of his drinking sessions the thought crossed my mind that perhaps I should leave him, but I dismissed it immediately. I just loved him too much, and when you love someone you do not walk away when they need your help most. In any case, I could not have done it, I needed him too much – he was my world. It has been difficult enough carrying on since he died, but if I knew he was living anywhere on Earth I would have to be with him if it were at all possible, I just couldn’t stay away.

I remember all the good times he gave me, so the few difficult times are a small price to pay. Once I got the impression perhaps he wanted me to leave him, and actually asked him if he thought he would be better on his own. He looked at me and said:

‘Oh no, you are the only thing which keeps me going.’

It was the most wonderful thing anyone ever said to me. The feeling was mutual, because even though he has since died, the only thing which keeps me going is the thought of meeting him again in the next world. I think I might have committed suicide soon after he died if it were not for that belief, for I firmly believe if I do not complete my allotted life-span it could ruin our chances for a long-lasting reunion and progression to higher planes together. I don’t want to have to come back and learn to cope with bereavement, I’d rather learn that lesson this time around.

I am glad and proud that we stayed together for better or worse for 21 years, right till the very end when death parted us. I was there for him and he was there for me. He stuck by me through my fanatical embrace of Communism, he put up with my obsession with Jerry Lee Lewis and 1950s rock’n’roll and my ‘mental mind block’ on any music later than 1962, and all sorts of other things. We could have been a lot more sexually compatible, but our love transcended the sexual and became something much deeper and spiritual. I am so glad I didn’t walk away from him when he needed me most, just as he never walked away from me. I know we both passed the crucial test by staying together through thick and thin, and this is the important thing which will help us progress in the future. Of course, there were happy times as well, even in the last few months when his depression was getting worse.

Census Day was on April 21st, so George was included for the last time. One of the best films we saw in our last few months together was Mike Leigh’s ‘Life Is Sweet’ starring Alison Steadman and Jane Horrocks, who played the teenager from Hell. We enjoyed the film but both felt it could have had a stronger ending.

That Spring we had our last photos taken together. My mother took one on a visit to our flat of George and me with our cat, Tibby. Then Channel 4’s ‘Out’ program came to take what they termed ‘publicity shots’ for the program due to be screened in August. Since we were only a very small part of the program, it seemed highly unlikely any ‘publicity shots’ of us would be used in the TV guides, so George assumed it was just a perk for the photographers, and wondered if they even had film in their camera. As it turned out they did, and although the shots they took were never used to my knowledge, I was able to get hold of a selection after George’s death, and these professional photos are the last ones ever taken of us together. They were taken about May 1991, just four months before he died, but there is little evidence he is ill in the photos. A fish-eye lens makes him look a bit thin in one of the outside shots, but they are nice photos with both of us looking well and happy, and our cat Tibby is also in several of them.

I was later given some photos of George on a visit to our friend Lena’s flat in June 1991, and he looks the picture of health in these. I didn’t go with him to Lena’s on that occasion but his partner took the photos and they swear they were taken just three months before he died, just when his PCP cough was starting.

On the last day of April George went along to the Oxfam shop in Hammersmith to do some voluntary work. He fancied a change from the Oxfam book and record shop in Ealing, but the Hammersmith shop never worked out. I think he felt like an unwanted outsider amongst an army of women, and they had so many of these volunteers he felt superfluous. The Ealing shop was a long way to travel, and I think he was getting a bit fed up with doing much of the shop leader’s work without any credit. He generally enjoyed his work for Oxfam, especially at the Chelsea shop when he was shop leader. After he stopped going into the Ealing shop in February 1991 he never worked regularly for Oxfam again.

George was afraid if they discovered he was working as a volunteer in a charity shop several days a week the DHSS would say he was not available for work and cut his benefit. The rules do, in fact, allow for voluntary work, but George was too scared to ask.
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In early May we booked tickets to see ‘Les Miserables’ again (we both saw it many times), this time with our new friends Dirk and Paul. Since coming back from Prague we were in touch with them regularly. George and Dirk spoke for hours to each other on the telephone, and gradually got to know a lot more about each other. Had he lived, Dirk and Paul would have been the best friends George had made in a long while since they could have shared so much together discussing and enjoying classical music, opera and the ballet, but it was not to be.

In mid-May George went into one of his old charity shops to do some voluntary work. I think it was probably the last time he worked in such a shop. The manager was all too willing to take the credit and let George do most of his work. He was also a dreadful moaner, and very hard to work with.

On one occasion I went in to help, and decided to clear up the basement sales area and the stockroom next to it. Henry (the shop leader) moaned at me for hoovering and tidying up, and said he wanted it left in as much mess as possible so the area manager could see on his/her next visit how much Henry needed help.

George and his friend Rita, who both used to work in this shop, could sit for hours telling stories about Henry. Like the day George was in the basement and Henry could not be bothered to come down the stairs with a plastic bag full of stuff someone had brought in which needed sorting. He threw it down the stairs and smashed all the crockery, ornaments and glasses it contained. He must have known from the sound and weight it didn’t just contain clothes.

On another occasion a woman came in with a donation saying: ‘I do so admire what this charity does for the starving.’

Henry replied: ‘Well I’m starving, and they don’t do anything for me’.
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The poor woman took him literally and gave him money to buy himself a meal. Henry went out and bought a take away, and then threw most of it in the bin because he didn’t like it. Since he breakfasted at Selfridges every morning he was hardly starving or short of money. He even got the charity to move him out to Buckinghamshire where he used to live, and then move him back to London again because he didn’t like it after all. He was a walking disaster area, and always had terrible tales of woe to relate.

When the shop was closed one day and he was in there on his own, he claimed a gang of skinheads pissed through the letterbox. He arrived late for one of our parties, and claimed he had almost been run down by a bus.

In May I took a day off work and we went to the Brighton Festival to see a play called ‘The Rose Tattoo’ in the afternoon, and Lily Savage in a show that evening, a sort of early treat for George nearly two weeks before his birthday. We enjoyed both shows, but George had some trouble with his new hearing aid during the play. I kept hearing a high pitched whistle coming from it. Since it was the first time he’d worn it he wasn’t used to it, or how to adjust it to  stop the whistling. It was possibly also the last time he used it.
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This was our very last visit to Brighton together. Apart from the shows I can’t remember the details, as we went there so often. We never did the gay scene there, and were content to explore the little shopping streets near the station such as Kensington Gardens, and buy some fish and chips to eat on the way. In good weather I would love to sit on the beach and go for a swim, and we nearly always had a walk along the pier. When I went back to Brighton with a so-called ‘friend’ who I soon discovered was just abusing my friendship I was very sad because he didn’t want to do any of the simple things George and I enjoyed doing. When I suggested a walk along the pier he said pompously: ‘I think not’.

What this friend did want to do is be seen in all the right places, spend an awful lot of money and eat in expensive restaurants. We didn’t do anything that weekend in Brighton we couldn’t have done in London, since the gay scene there has exactly the same cabaret, except the Brighton gay pubs are smaller and more crowded so you can’t actually see anything in comfort. We stayed in a supposedly ‘gay hotel’, which was in fact a gay owned boarding house where they ripped you off just for the privilege of not being with heterosexuals. George and I never stayed overnight in Brighton, and if we had it would have been a cheap B&B – we wouldn’t even dream of staying in a gay hotel because we knew most were rip-offs full of posy piss-elegant queens.

On the Monday following our Brighton visit George had a restart interview with the DOE.  It was a complete waste of time. The word ‘interview’ was a misnomer for ‘lecture’, and anything the unemployed person said, such as ‘I need retraining or a chance to go to university’, was totally ignored. That, at least, was George’s unhappy experience.

On May 27th, his 48th and last birthday, we went to the Barbican Center to see the film ‘The Ballad Of The Sad Café’. The following week he had to go for yet another interview, this time with the DOE in Putney, but it was no more productive than the others and no offer of training came from it.

In June we went to the local Latchmere Theater, upstairs above a pub, to see two short plays, one of which we had seen on TV and the other one was gay. The collective title was ‘Office Works’ since that was their subject matter. George was rather critical of me because I bought a kebab at the shop next door and had to bolt it down quickly in order to be in time for the plays. He probably thought the smell of it would linger into the theater, as he had told me never to eat certain well-known hamburgers before going to the theater as, he claimed, they left a smell very similar to B.O. for hours afterwards. I can vouch this is true. Just get into a bus where someone is eating one or has just ate one and you will smell what I mean.

A couple of days later was the last Gay Pride I went to with George. We went to Kennington Park and watched the march arrive, hoping to see the floats, but they had dropped out and parked along the road. We walked up to look at a couple of them, then stood on the corner as the march went by. Drag artist Regina Fong climbed on to something by the traffic lights with a parasol and a fan and shouted encouragement to the marchers. We then went in the park and met up with out friend Andre. I got a theatrical peck on the cheek from a gay volunteer at Amnesty International who then disappeared into the crowd. We had something to eat at the park café, avoiding the pink pound food outlets like the plague. The acts on the main stage were not very interesting, consisting mainly it seemed of ‘politically correct’ lesbians with no talent whatsoever. I think Sandy Shaw put in an appearance that year, but apart from her there was not much worth watching. We peered into the cabaret tent where Lily Savage and other drag artists appeared and saw Millie (later known as Millie Mopp) singing a song called ‘Any Queen Will Do’ which was before a well-known libel court case.

George remarked again on the number of lesbian couples with children in tow, which to us seemed totally inappropriate for a gay carnival. We hoped to escape the heterosexual world of families yet screaming brats were all around us. George remarked that these supposed lesbians had either opened their legs to some man in order to have kids, or, even worse, had been artificially inseminated, probably on the NHS. As he said, the world was already overpopulated without gay people making the problem worse. George felt a lot of these women were not really gay at all but just thought it ‘politically correct’ to leave their husbands and boyfriends for another woman once they had a baby.
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At this carnival real or bogus lesbians seemed to have taken over the main stage and much of the park. Andre, George and I sat down in a quiet corner on a seat by a tree and chatted for a while. It turned out years after George died, that Andre had noticed something was wrong with George, and that he did not look at all well. Although he didn’t say it in so many words, Andre made it clear that back in June 1991 he saw George for the first time in a while and suspected he was HIV+. He said, like me, he pushed such thoughts to the back of his mind, saying he must be mistaken. But of course he wasn’t, and he was also correct about other people he told me looked ill and were HIV+ who did indeed later die of AIDS. Andre always seemed to be the first to know – he is very shrewd and little escaped his attention. Gay Pride was the last time Andre and George saw each other, but they talked for hours on the phone very regularly. I had to put Andre off when he rang up the last week before George died, telling him it was my mother who was ill. He was ringing with the latest ‘scandal’ but neither George nor myself were in any fit state to be interested.

From early summer George’s PCP started, and I describe the development of his terminal illness and death elsewhere. In this chapter I will concentrate on other events in the last four months of George’s life.

The day after Gay Pride an acquaintance of George’s from Oxfam came over to lunch with his video camera to film George’s collage. The end result pleased George immensely. The Channel Four contracting company who filmed the collage had a six person crew, tripods, arc lights and even a light on a pole outside shining through the window, but all Keith had was a hand-held video camera with a light attached, and his production was far superior. He had special lenses for close-ups and artistic effects, and was able to film every inch of George’s collage, whereas the film crew could get no close-ups, had no special effects and could only film a portion of the collage.

George never lived to see the unedited tape of what the TV production company filmed, but he did see the short clip they showed on the broadcast TV program, and the rest of the main collage footage was just repetition. George rightly judged Keith’s film much better and more professional. His ‘amateur’ film was an absolute masterpiece, and George loved it. George said Keith had focused on many of the most important elements and details of his collage. Filming was Keith’s hobby, and he had put a lot of effort into it and produced an extremely professional-looking film with fade-outs and fade-ins as well as the other special effects. The TV film crew, with all their paraphernalia, just did not do the collage justice. The unedited tape had good close-ups of George and myself, which were never broadcast, but their actual filming of George’s two collages was very poor indeed.

Keith’s film was silent, so George composed a musical soundtrack from our record collections to complement the images on the screen. I audio-dubbed it on to the video cassette, but have since discovered audio-dubbing apparently only works on the actual machine it was taped on. Since this machine has since broken and been replaced, the dubbed soundtracks of Keith’s film, the unedited ‘Out’ film and our Super-8 holiday films all now transferred DVD unfortunately do not come out properly when playing them. However, I have the original audio cassette of the songs George chose for Keith’s film, so it can be placed on a hi-fi unit simultaneously with the video/DVD to reproduce George’s original soundtrack.

There is one sad note to finish the story of Keith’s video, of which George was so proud and pleased. The night before he died we were watching TV, but he couldn’t get into anything. We abandoned a play set in South Africa, and put on a Pavarotti video we had not yet had time to watch, which George enjoyed immensely. When I asked if he wanted to see Keith’s video again, he said ‘yes’, but as soon as I put it on and the opening music and titles started with shots of his collage, he found it all too traumatic and screamed: ‘Turn it off, turn it off’.

I don’t know why. Perhaps it was too poignant a reminder of his own mortality and closeness to death, and the thought that this film would survive whereas he wouldn’t. Maybe it was knowing he could no longer keep the collage up to date, that it might deteriorate or be destroyed altogether. At any rate, he could not watch Keith’s wonderful record of his collage the night before he died. It was just too moving and close to George’s heart. Perhaps too much like the instant images of one’s whole life which flash before people during near-death experiences, for George had put so much of himself into that collage in the last few years of his life.

In July our friend Andre went off to Turkey for the first time on the trail of a German guy whom he thought he was in love with. They met up in Ankara I believe, and the guy made it quite plain he was sorry, but he wasn’t interested in a romantic involvement. George and I knew from what Andre had already told us that the guy had made this quite plain in a very gentle and polite way before he even left London, writing to Andre that ‘he was not his knight on a white charger’. Andre couldn’t take the hint though and followed him to Turkey.

So George lived to see the first of Andre’s many trips to Turkey, which led him through a series of romantic adventures and an obsession with the country and its people. Later he visited twice a year to see a Turkish guy he met on one of his holidays, so this first trip in 1991 was the beginning of some great adventures for Andre, which included some dangerous trips to the mountains in the east of the country where a civil war was going on between the government and the PKK (Kurdish separatists).

Also in July George went to some sort of interview with Keith, who filmed his collage, at the London Oxfam office in Battersea. If this was about a job or voluntary work nothing seemed to come of it, but this could well be because it did not have time to come to fruition before George fell ill.

Two days later on Saturday we went to a big Japanese festival in Battersea Park, which was very colorful and interesting. All sorts of exotic food and other things were on sale, but all I remember taking away with us were loads of free telephone note pads from Virgin Airlines’ stall, enough to last for years.

The following Monday was a day to remember. I had seen in ‘The Guardian’ newspaper an advert for tickets to a debate in the Houses of Parliament on Tony Benn’s proposal for a republican constitution for Britain. We received the tickets, and I arranged to meet George after work at the entrance to the Houses of Parliament. As we sat in the impressive corridor leading to the main lobby, I realized George had been drinking quite heavily. He was speaking in a louder than normal voice (usually he spoke very softly) and was making some sarcastic remarks.

We were eventually led, with other ticket holders, through Westminster Hall to a room overlooking Westminster Abbey. We saw some quite well known legal and political figures, and George found himself sitting next to Lord Jenkins of Putney, the former Labour Arts Minister.

Tony Benn led the debate, which was most interesting. When questions were invited, George felt intimidated by the fact he was unemployed and had no academic or professional qualifications. Every speaker and questioner announced themselves by their name and profession, so when George got up to speak he said ‘George Millard, researcher’, a description used by several other questioners who could well have been in exactly George’s position for all we knew.

When questioners sympathetic to the royal family spoke, George muttered sarcastic comments much the same as those he shouted at the TV news when he’d had a few drinks. I remember the scornful look he gave one of these questioners behind us, turning in his seat, lips pursed forward indignantly, his staring eyes looking her up and down from head to toe and back again as much as to say: ‘What the Hell kind of creature are you and who let you out?’ I thought he was about to shout out something quite over the top, but he didn’t.

George made a rather topical point to do with the royal family, the details of which I can’t recall, except that he got a little flustered and got a name slightly wrong. He then commented that the royal family were descended from rogues and murderers.

Tony Benn, in his usual mild inoffensive way, quickly tried to turn the nature of the debate away from personalities and back to the impersonal principles of republicanism. He clearly wasn’t going to get into the dubious history of the many thieves, rogues and murderers who were the ancestors of the House of Windsor, but I am glad George plainly pointed out these facts. It is fitting that his first and last public speech, short as it may have been, was as hard-hitting, straightforward and uncompromising as the rest of his life, and it was made about the royal family in the Houses of Parliament, in the presence of members of both its chambers.

Lord Jenkins certainly didn’t seem offended by either George’s little tirade against the royal family and their ancestors, or his critical comments about the pro-royalist speakers, as he smiled at George in a friendly sort of way after George made his contributions to the debate.

It had been a very invigorating and interesting experience. After all the BBC ‘Question Time’ programs we had attended as part of the audience, and the many public meetings, this was the first one I remember George getting up the courage to speak. If he needed a few drinks to get that courage, who can blame him? He probably knew it would be his last chance to speak in public, certainly on such an important subject in such a distinguished place. He was speaking in the mother of parliaments before MPs and peers of the realm against the Head of State and all her ancestors. I am proud of him.

We were planning a holiday to Jersey in September and my mother was coming with us as she had not been back there for over 60 years since she worked on the island in service aged about 15-16. She had been nursery maid at Trinity Manor in 1929 and 1930. One day George announced that he wouldn’t be coming to Jersey, and that my mother and I should go on our own.

It was actually George who suggested she come with us in the first place, as he knew that she always longed to pay a return visit. This was just the latest in a series of sudden last minute erratic changes of mind which makes me think now it may have been something to do with his medical condition. There was the time in March when he suddenly didn’t want to go on holiday to Vienna, Budapest and Prague the night before we were due to fly out and in June or July I had tickets for Linda Gail Lewis (Jerry Lee’s sister) in concert, and George suddenly said he wouldn’t come with me, leaving me with an unused ticket. He quite liked some of Linda’s records, but when I mentioned other Jerry Lee Lewis fan club members would be there he said he wouldn’t go along and mix with that crowd of nutters, or words to that effect.

Now he suddenly announced he wouldn’t come to Jersey because my mum was going to be with us, but apparently he changed his mind yet again next day. He said if she kept waffling on about things he would just put his earphones on, listen to his cassettes and block her out. Of course we had been on holidays with her before and he was probably thinking this would be worse as if she wasn’t going on about the weather or the food or hotel, she would be reminiscing about how things had changed in the 60 years since she was last there.

I was in a quandary. I was afraid if I went ahead with the booking for all three of us George would back out at the very last minute and refuse to come with us on the morning of our departure. I did not know who to turn to for advice, so in the end I went to Shirley, my boss at work. She was a likeable, approachable woman and the nearest person I could think of to a counselor figure.

I explained the situation to her, and she gave me one of the most important pieces of advice in my life: ‘Your first duty is to your partner’. It was obvious George wasn’t happy about my mother coming along, despite saying he now didn’t mind, and I should write to my mother just saying we felt we needed space to be on our own as we had been under a lot of pressure lately, which was true (mainly the pressure of the DHSS and George trying unsuccessfully to get training and/or find a job). I told George of my chat with Shirley and what she had advised.

I then made a very important decision, helped by Shirley’s advice, and wrote asking my mother if she would come to Jersey with me another time, as we really needed to go away alone. I hated doing it as I knew how much Jersey meant to her, and she was getting no younger at the age of 77. This could well be her last chance to revisit the place she knew in her youth.

However, it was a decision I had to make, and I put George before my mother. This was without even suspecting at the time he had a terminal illness. I feel this decision was so important, it might have been one of the reasons I was put on this Earth in my current life. If I had decided otherwise, if my mother had come along on this holiday and George had stayed at home, I might well have come back to find him on his deathbed or possibly already dead. If he’d come with us it would have been almost as disastrous, with my mother nagging him to see a doctor and probably taking matters into her own hands. If we’d then all discovered at the same time he was HIV+ with PCP, who knows what might have been said and what the consequences would have been? Certainly it would have been more difficult to carry out George’s wishes and keep him out of hospital at all costs.

There was an exchange of letters between my mother and George, in which my mother said she understood we needed time on our own and how thankful she was that I met George, saying it was ‘a miracle’ and ‘an answer to my prayers’ because I’d been so ‘depressed and mixed up’ before we met. George wrote back and thanked her for understanding we needed ‘not to have any third party on holiday, as we both have had lots of pressures and problems lately.’ This no doubt referred to his secret fears about his health, and my worries about his depression and drinking. He wrote ‘I wish it had been possible for me to have gone to college or university, as degrees open more doors’. He was still out of work with no prospect of employment.e HH

He also wrote that he felt my mother was a bit of a ‘loner’ herself who preferred her own company and who, like George, found it easier to express ‘emotions and opinions in writing. These were the last letters they wrote to each other.

In the letter George mentions trying to teach himself computers at the local library, since the DHSS had refused to give him any re-training to find a job whatsoever. George also inquired about day and evening computer classes, but was cruelly told if he wanted more information about a suitable word processor course he should ask when enrolment opened in September. All summer he looked forward to this chance to learn word processing with a proper tutor, only to go along on enrolment day and be told all the computer/word processing classes were already full from people who wrote in before enrolment day knowing exactly what was suitable for them.

The DHSS and DOE had utterly failed George (and presumably many others) by refusing to help him find suitable training. He did his best to teach himself at the Skills Discovery Center with some help from me, and applied for suitable evening classes only to be fobbed off and later told other people who had received better advice had robbed him of his only hope of ever getting another job.

I tried my best to help. I asked at the Skills Discovery Center what training schemes were available to the long-term unemployed. They gave me some pamphlets, which I showed to George, but he was so depressed and dispirited he could not get up any enthusiasm. I foolishly made some remark about his attitude, and George hit the roof, storming off to bed in a huff. It was one of our last quarrels.

Of course I should have been more sensitive. George wanted personal advice and help, not a load of pamphlets stuck in front of him to wade through about various government schemes largely designed to get people out of the official employment figures without giving them any useful training for a permanent job.

On the last weekend in July our new friends Dirk and Paul from Norwich, whom we met on the Vienna/Budapest/Prague holiday, paid us a visit in London. George and Dirk had spoken very regularly on the phone at great length so they knew each other quite well by now.

We put them in our spare bedroom on the sofa bed. This was George’s main collage room, and I remember when I suggested showing Dirk and Paul Keith’s video of his collage George said it wasn’t a good idea as they had to sleep and wake up with it whilst staying with us, without having to watch it on TV as well.

We had tickets to see ‘Les Miserables’ yet again on the Saturday, though it was the first time for Dirk and Paul. We caught a train to Waterloo, where already the Channel Tunnel international rail terminal was going up (what a waste of money that was, it was moved to St Pancras 17 years later and Waterloo International terminal was then disused).

We walked over Hungerford Bridge and took a stroll around Covent Garden and the West End before heading for Cambridge Circus and the Palace Theater. We were up in the gods, and had a long climb. Dirk remarked years later, after George’s death, that he noticed George was very breathless after climbing all those stairs, but I’m afraid I didn’t at the time notice this first indication of his terminal illness.

We all enjoyed the production very much, and in the interval we went into the pub next door for a drink (which involved another difficult climb for George, first down then up the stairs again.) It was a pleasant weekend, and the first of many Dirk and Paul would pay to our flat in London. Sadly, it was the only time they visited us while George was still alive. They had trouble finding our flat as they had left our address and phone number at home. Luckily they remembered the street name, and as they parked the car at the end of our cul-de-sac we were looking out of the window and saw them, so they didn’t have to ring half the doorbells in the street to find us. At the end of their visit we saw them off and promised to visit them in a few weeks’ time.

George was still going to the Skills Discovery Center to try to get to grips with word processing, and I was going along to help him. Not having a Travelcard he always walked almost a mile to the Center at such a brisk pace I had a job to keep up. It seem incredible in retrospect that a few weeks before his death from a type of pneumonia that left him breathless and unable to climb the slightest incline, he was able to make this return journey once a day at such a pace. One day he took me on a little detour to see a mural he had discovered.

On August 7th we paid our very last visit to the National Theater together, a preview of their production of Bertolt Brecht’s ‘The Resistible Rise or Arturo Ui’. We had front row seats as usual, having bought day tickets that morning, and immediately behind us was sitting a woman who worked at AI’s International Secretariat. She had also been there in George’s time, so when I turned around and saw her I introduced her to George sitting next to me. Not surprisingly she hadn’t recognized him from the back, as he had changed his hairstyle since working at AI when he had a sort of Afro perm. George exchanged a few words with her. It was a great shock when I told her at work some months later that he had died.

The sets of the production were very impressive, and the most dramatic scene I remember is looking up from the front row to a huge dais towering what seemed about 20 foot above us at Arturo Ui (a cross between Al Capone and Adolf Hitler) spouting his message of hatred above us.

The following weekend George’s sister, Betty, arrived in London again on her fateful last ever visit to her brother, which ended very bitterly indeed. We weren’t overjoyed about her coming again so soon after the last disastrous visit at Easter, especially as she insisted on bringing yet another grandchild in tow. Actually Graham wasn’t too bad, except he had a phobia about trains.

One day we planned to take him and Betty on the Docklands Light Railway, and he was very apprehensive. I was to meet them at Bank after work, having swopped to the early shift. They managed to get him on the train at Clapham Junction, then down the Waterloo and City Line. As I waited at the top of the Travelator (a moving walkway) at Bank station I was amazed to see them coming up the steps in the adjacent tunnel. This was a very long climb, but just a few weeks before George fell very ill he climbed them with little trouble. Either he had forgotten the Travelator was there, or Graham had a phobia about those too.

We boarded the Docklands train, which had only recently started operating from Bank station. We sat in the front, and the little boy soon lost his fear of trains at the excitement of speeding through the Tube tunnel from Bank station and up into the daylight, heading for Canary Wharf. They had just introduced new trains and were having great trouble with them. The conductor had to keep opening up a box at the front of the supposedly driverless trains and manipulating the controls. (Five years later I took Neil and Rose on the DLR and they were still having teething troubles with these trains. We were late for the theater because of a breakdown in the Bank tunnel.)

The Canary Wharf tower at this time was nearing completion, but was still covered in blue protective sheeting. I believe the pyramid roof structure had yet to be erected. Nevertheless it was very impressive as we went through Canary Wharf station, and then headed for Island Gardens, where we crossed the river by foot tunnel to Greenwich (the DLR didn’t at that time continue under the River to Greenwich and Lewisham). The Cutty Sark was too expensive to visit, but I took Graham on Francis Chichester’s little boat in which he circled the globe. I found it very interesting, and it seemed bigger inside than it looked from the outside.

Betty said she couldn’t climb the hill to the old Greenwich Observatory and the Greenwich Meridian Line, so we looked around a little then caught the bus home. There was a very good pie shop in Greenwich which George always liked to visit, but this was one of the occasions when it was shut, so we were unlucky.

One of George’s favorite meals was pie and mash, and there was a very good shop in Shepherd’s Bush which we both liked. It was one of the few such places which had a choice of gravy instead of liquor, and I preferred the former. We paid a visit to this shop in late August/early September only to find it closed for their summer holidays. George was very disappointed, as we had made the journey all the way from Battersea especially. Little did we know he was never to have his favorite meal in a pie and mash shop again. However, I did buy him pie and mash on our 21st anniversary on September 10th, a few days before he fell ill. It seems a funny thing to give someone as an anniversary treat, but it was his favorite meal, so I brought the take-away in as a surprise. Unfortunately he wasn’t very hungry and I believe only picked at it. He must have been on the ‘sweeties’ (amphetamines) as they took away his appetite.

During the week Betty was visiting we left them largely to their own devices. However we did take them to Holland Park one day, where we met up with my mother on a day visit from her home in Welwyn Garden City.

By the weekend we were glad to be able to escape to Norwich for a visit to our friends Dirk and Paul, leaving Betty and Graham in the flat alone.

We caught a coach from Victoria, and Dirk and Paul met us at Norwich bus station. During our stay they gave us a tour of the town and we saw the remains of the old walls. Also the little narrow streets of old Norwich, the big market place, the cathedral and river. Never having visited the city before, we were quite impressed. They also showed us the huge excavations for a big new shopping mall near the strangely shaped square castle on a hill overlooking the main shopping center.

My last good photos of George were taken on this trip, and he looks fairly well in them, if a little thin. On several occasions that August I noticed a hollow look around his eyes and it flashed through my mind that there was something seriously wrong with him, but I pushed such thoughts to the back of my mind. He had mentioned he was losing weight, but we both said it was probably because of the worry of being out of a job for so long and the pressure being put on him by the DHSS.

By the market place we saw the impressive Norwich City Hall, built in the 1930s and based on the town hall in Stockholm, which George and I had visited. The clock tower was indeed very similar.

We found Dirk and Paul’s bungalow on the outskirts of the city very impressive. It had a fairly large garden with a big conservatory, in which a vine grew laden with grapes. The very last good picture of George was taken in this conservatory, of him and Dirk sitting on a sofa under the vine. In this photo, six weeks before his death from AIDS, George looks the picture of good health, smiling and happy. Whatever he was suffering and keeping to himself, there were only a few subtle signs to tell me something was seriously wrong, and I ignored them. After all, when someone is a little off color or thin you don’t immediately assume they have AIDS or cancer, you always tell yourself not to imagine the worst, it will be something trivial.
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Dirk and Paul spent hours preparing an elaborate meal with three courses and a large choice of vegetables all served with various home-made sauces. As George and I sat in their living room we could see and hear them busily preparing the meal for hours in their kitchen. George whispered to me how busy they were making a special meal for us, and we were both very touched. They had been together one year longer than us, and it was so nice to be accepted by them on equal terms as another gay couple and see them both sharing the chores to make us welcome.

George and I talked quietly to each other about the bungalow, which was in an immaculate condition. George said that it was ‘very, very posh’, but I felt it was not so much that as quite sparsely furnished, with no clutter or mess. In actual fact, I discovered years later it was not a lived in home at all in the ordinary sense of the word, merely a weekend retreat. Usually they only stayed there two nights a week, staying with their separate families the rest of the time. This explained why there were no wardrobes, chests of drawers and hardly any cupboards in the bungalow. Most of their clothes were kept elsewhere. Whereas we had loads of ornaments in our flat, they had none.

There were two bedrooms, each with a double bed and two upright chairs. Their bedroom, which was the one we slept in that night, also had an upright piano and a folding dining table, which was brought into the living room for our main meal. There were no drawers or cupboards of any kind in the bedrooms. The living room had a three piece suite, some little coffee tables, a TV, VCR and a hi-fi unit with some records and CDs. There was no other furniture in this room.

The kitchen had the usual fitted cupboards and shelves, plus an electric cooker and fridge. Overlooking the garden was a built in table/counter with some stools where we sat and had breakfast. A huge range of spices on the wall in three or four tiers testified to their culinary skills. Leading off the kitchen was a small bathroom with just a washbasin and an airing cupboard. The only other cupboard in the entire bungalow was out in the conservatory next to the toilet, and in this cupboard they kept their pots and pans, etc.. The conservatory at that time had a three piece suite, some shelves with books on and an old hi fi unit, which was later removed. A huge glass container of fermenting wine stood on the floor, but it was never to be consumed as it was spilt all over the kitchen floor months later in a disastrous accident.

We tried several times to ring Neil, Rose’s partner, who was working in an hotel in nearby Great Yarmouth all summer. We planned to pay him a visit, however he was in a panic over some football fans who were in town, and obviously didn’t want us to visit. In actual fact he never liked anyone visiting him whilst he was working at the hotel reception, and claimed he never got any time off at weekends, not even a lunch hour. It was, of course, slave labor, and Rose had a row with his employers, who were so-called friends, and got his wages doubled from about one pound to two pounds an hour plus his meals and keep. When we rang and suggested coming over, he blustered: ‘Oh no, I can’t see you. It’s very very busy here and we have football hooligans all over town and some sitting in the bar. I can’t possibly see you this weekend.’ So we had to leave it. A great pity, as it would have been the last time George and Neil saw each other, but it was not to be.
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As we sat down to our main meal on the Sunday before catching the coach home, the first course was melon balls, which neither of us was very fond of. When Dirk and Paul were in the kitchen George was making faces and whispering to me he couldn’t eat them, and I insensitively told him to try. Bravely he did so, only to tell me on the coach home I should never have told him to eat them as they had brought his mouth ulcers out again, and he was in agony all the way home.

Dirk and Paul gave us both a little hug and a kiss before driving us to the bus station. As the coach left, they both waved, and George remarked how sweet they were, seeing us off like that.

On the bus home George said they had treated us so well and taken so much trouble over the meals, we must make a special effort for them next time they visited us. Sadly, this was after George died, but I did make a special effort and made George’s cauliflower soup and banana ice-cream to go with the main course.

We were not looking forward to arriving home to Betty and Graham, and as soon as George walked in the door he sniffed and accused Betty of committing the ultimate sacrilege: frying onions in our kitchen. George detested the smell of onions (and garlic), and would not have them in the house. Betty admitted the crime, but said it had been the night before. George didn’t miss anything though, and could still smell them 24 hours later. Usually the very smell made him physically sick. I was very upset when my mother, staying with me after George died, bought and fried some onions the day after he died. It was sacrilege to me also, and I felt she should have left a decent interval before cooking onions in our kitchen. It was as if she were saying thank goodness now George isn’t here any more you can have onions again, and I didn’t think this was the time to point this fact out. I would have willingly sacrificed onions and a million other things to have George back well and happy again.

The big upset came when Betty was leaving to go back to Glasgow. George was due at the Skills Discovery Center, but decided he had to see Betty off properly. So we all walked down the road to Clapham Junction station where we waited for a bus which would drop us right outside Victoria Coach station.

The single decker bus came along and I jumped on board, as I was going to see them off at the coach station. Betty and Graham followed me, but George told me later Betty was so engrossed in getting the kid and her luggage on board she forgot to say ‘goodbye’ to George. As the bus started to speed off I saw George waving, and I waved back, but Betty was totally engrossed in ‘wee Graham’. I pointed out that George was waving goodbye, but by the time she turned and looked he was out of sight. I then got confused with another route, and said I thought the bus would turn around and pass George again, but of course it didn’t.

That night Betty rang to say she had arrived home safely, and George answered the phone. He had been drinking during the day. He was extremely short with her, and slammed the phone down on her saying if she couldn’t be bothered to say goodbye properly, he didn’t want to know. She protested that she had been preoccupied getting wee Graham into his seat on the bus, and then blamed me by saying I had said we would pass George again when the bus turned round. This made George annoyed with me, since I gave her a feeble excuse, but I said I was sorry but I got confused. In any case it was no excuse for Betty not saying goodbye or waving, like I had done.

George was determined to write Betty a letter, but said he was so angry he had better wait till he had calmed down. He actually wrote the fateful letter some weeks later, and it was still very bitter. In it he admitted he was dying, and that he felt it was the last time he and his sister would ever see each other. The letter became his own eulogy.

I reproduce extracts from the letter here, written on August 29th, one month before he died:

‘Dear Betty,

I must admit to being very annoyed and angry at your ignorant behaviour on the morning you left, and still am…. the first thing you did was turn your back and talk to Graham as the bus drove away, with me waving like an idiot at someone who had evidently dismissed me from her mind… I felt I had served my purpose and had been completely forgotten, and it really hurt me…Â

I also felt it was the last time we would see each other because I know something serious is wrong with me, and I’ve always felt I would never live much longer than 50. That was another reason it upset me so, although I don’t like to talk about such things… I realise I am a very sensitive person… You and Margaret tend to be somewhat self-centred by comparison… This is not the only time I have found fault with your selfish behaviour… Finally, although I may sound morbid I must say something practical about my intended death arrangements whenever that time comes. I’m not insured, and I don’t want any funeral, coffin, flowers, reception, etc.. My body will go to medical science. I’ve always been against undertakers cashing in on the grief and death of others. I’ve also seen enough of funeral gatherings to realise how hypocritical and uncomfortable they are for those who attend. Besides, if people can’t have the decency to say “Cheerio” when you are alive it seems superfluous to do so when you are dead. I showed the contents of this letter to Tony, and his only concern was that you might jump to the conclusion I’ve got AIDS, given the exaggerated publicity in the “junk” papers equating the disease with gays. I don’t know what is wrong with me, as I’m too terrified of hospitals to go for tests etc. but of one thing I’m certain it’s not AIDS or HIV, as I’ve never taken any intravenous drugs in my life or been sexually active or promiscuous. Having been sexually abused by a female cousin and a stepbrother during the formative years of my adolescent development is no doubt responsible for my lack of interest in sex. Even my long-term relationship with Tony (21 years together on 10th September) has been basically a purely platonic one (i.e. based on love/affection/caring but no “hanky-panky”). So whatever is wrong with me, it’s certainly not a sexually-transmitted disease. Finally although most people regard dying as a taboo subject, it holds no fear for me, as I believe in re-incarnation and that we are brought into this life to learn from our mistakes and from others. What I fear is pain, hospitals, and being reduced to a vegetable with others having to see to my everyday bodily functions, etc.. I’ve had a very varied and fortunate life and experienced all sorts of interesting things, and met all sorts of fascinating people from all walks of life. I’ve travelled everywhere in the world I wanted to see. The only regret is that I have never achieved my ambition to become a professional writer, but because I left school at 15 and didn’t get the opportunity to go to college or university, I was unable to obtain a university degree. However, God in His wisdom has reasons for everything that happens in our lives, and perhaps I would have become too big-headed or egotistical had I found fame and fortune as a writer. We must console ourselves by the fact that there are people worse off than us, particularly in the Third World struggling to survive in conditions of extreme poverty, famine and civil war. There but for the grace of God go we….  I realise the contents of this letter may probably upset you. But your unthinking attitude and behaviour upset me much more than you will ever know.’

The letter gives some deep insights into what was going through his mind in the last few weeks of his life.
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My main concern, when he showed me the letter, was of course the shock announcement that he felt he was dying. But when he saw how shocked and taken aback I was by this, he dismissed it as a ploy to make Betty feel guilty, which I accepted as eagerly as a drowning man grabs at an overhanging branch. So my only remaining concern was the effect of this announcement on Betty, whereupon I pointed out she would immediately assume he had AIDS, since she read the tabloid press. That I too jumped to this conclusion shows that the fact that he might have AIDS did indeed cross my mind, but I never allowed myself to entertain the idea seriously, it was just too awful to contemplate.

His remarks about funeral arrangements, if they were a serious expression of his wishes, were not carried out. He had made no provision for his body to be given for medical purposes, and in view of his extreme distrust and fear of hospitals at the end it seemed totally inappropriate to me. He had never really discussed the matter in great depth, except to mention certain people he didn’t want at his funeral, which clearly implied he would indeed have such a ceremony. In the event one of the people he named was not invited, but the others were (being close family of him and myself it was not practical or really possible to bar them). He was cremated in a Spiritualist ceremony, and flowers were kept to a minimum with all but immediate family and myself invited to make donations to his favorite causes, Oxfam and Greenpeace.

The remarks about sexual abuse in his childhood were, in fact, evidence of how close he and Betty had become in recent years. In our flat not long before George had confided in Betty about this sexual abuse for the very first time, and she had never even suspected it before. His claim to be disinterested in sex, not promiscuous and that we had a basically platonic relationship was essentially true. What he omitted to say was he took amphetamines (speed) to give him this missing libido, and also the energy to write letters, articles, apply for jobs and everything else he was too depressed to do at other times. Of course he took speed when we visited New York and San Francisco in the late 70s/early 80s, so he was promiscuous then, as was I. Our relationship had become platonic, but that didn’t mean we were celibate. When George was on speed (about 3 weekends out of every 4) we both had casual sex partners. As explained earlier, one of the main reasons was because we were basically sexually incompatible, but emotionally devoted to each other. Our relationship was way above the sexual level, which would only have cheapened it. It was a meeting of minds and of the emotions, the joining of two souls for eternity.

George’s sister Betty replied to this letter in September, but was not apologetic or seemingly worried about George’s impending death. Perhaps, like me, she had heard him cry ‘wolf’ once too often, for he had been saying he was in ill-health and would die soon ever since the day I met him when he was only 27.

Betty started her reply: ‘I am most annoyed with your cheeky letter. I tried to explain on the phone but you wouldn’t listen….But don’t class me with Margaret. I am not self centred as you seem to think….I might have been thoughtless but I wasn’t pig ignorant. That’s what I call what you did on the Friday before you went to Norwich. You went to bed while I was making fritters and never even said you were going. That’s what I call ignorant. I am not making excuses … but… my memory sometimes lapses because of the damage done to my arteries through the disease …. But if that’s what you think don’t even answer this letter and I won’t trouble you again. I had the feeling you were trying to make a break after all that stuff about eviction after Marion and Charles were down… If your (sic) ill see a doctor don’t take it out on other people.’

Obviously they were as stubborn and straight-speaking as each other, as was their mother. Both were adept at playing the old violin to try and drum up sympathy by claiming ill-health and making the other one feel guilty. Loss of memory was something I had never heard Betty complain of before. George was so annoyed he couldn’t bring himself to reply, so I did it for him by writing to Betty and saying how hurt George was when she didn’t even say or wave ‘goodbye’ to him properly the last time they met. I said that George was already  suffering from severe depression because of being out of work with no prospect of ever working again or even getting an interview for a job because of his age and lack of qualifications, and no hope of re-training either. I said his depression ‘is made so much worse when your own relatives don’t understand and can’t even be bothered to… say “Goodbye” to you.’ I mentioned all the grandchildren she brought with her on various visits: ‘To be quite frank, I don’t know why you insist on bringing a never-ending succession of your grand-children to London when they are far too young to appreciate it….It is very restrictive for you and us – they’ll only eat certain food, we can’t take you to a show or a rock’n’roll or country’n’western pub/club in the evening, and every time you have to do the same old sightseeing tours… Most of them are too young for this sort of holiday, and if you don’t get tired taking uninterested children round the same old places year after year, I’m afraid we do… If you came up on your own or with someone older we could go to different places and go out in the evening. Surely this would have been more of a holiday for you, as your house is always full of grand-children… I’m sorry if you and George have fallen out…. I’m afraid loss of memory due to hardening of the arteries does sound a very weak excuse when you seem to have no difficulty remembering other things…When you are suffering from depression it doesn’t help when your own sister forgets to thank you or say goodbye.’

I showed this letter to George, and he was very pleased with me for speaking so directly. I am proud of that letter, and for defending George so vigorously, even though I have to say it would probably come out different if I wrote it today with George long departed and my knowing about his terminal illness, which of course added to his depression and made him more irritable. If I wrote the letter today I’d be far more honest and say they were both stubborn, and that irrational and intolerant behavior by George (e.g. suddenly disappearing when we were all out together, or going to bed just as Betty was preparing a meal) was due to the effects and after effects of drugs his doctor prescribed (i.e. amphetamines). I couldn’t say this whilst he was still alive. Nevertheless I feel Betty was largely to blame, and that writing that letter to her, and telling my mother not to come with us on holiday to Jersey, are two very important things I now feel I had to do before George and I parted in this world. I had to put him first, like Shirley my boss said, and on these two occasions when it came to the crunch I did, even at the risk of souring relations with his sister and my mother.
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Not that the letter to Betty had much effect. There was another almighty row over the funeral arrangements, which ended with Betty and my mother not talking (Betty could bear grudges for years, and at one time was not on speaking terms with her own son for about a year). When she did come to visit me again in London she still insisted on bringing a grandchild with her, despite all I had said in the letter. When I visited her in Glasgow after George’s death I was horrified and saddened to find pictures of her grandchildren all round her living room and not one of George. That shows exactly where her priorities lie, and why she paid all her attention to wee Graham and ignored George the last time she ever saw him. (Betty has since joined George on the Other Side, so hopefully they have now made up their quarrel.)

There was one other incident which occurred during Betty’s stay with us that August. One evening she came in late with Graham from a day out and her finger was bleeding quite badly. Apparently she had caught her ring as she stepped off a bus near our flat, and the ring had torn into her finger. George was annoyed at this latest drama, and muttered something to me out of Betty’s earshot. We had to rush her up to St Thomas’s hospital Casualty Department on a late bus. Wee Graham had to come along with us.

At the bus stop in Clapham Junction a guy called Wes came up to us. He was a gay guy I knew whom I had brought back to the flat once, and he had stolen George’s address book. He later had the audacity to admit he had taken the book ‘by accident’. Naturally George was not in the mood to be pleasant to him, and made this perfectly obvious, ignoring him and giving a cold stare as Wes spoke to him and asked how he was. Eventually Wes walked away. I saw him months, possibly years, after George died, and he blanked me out in order to get even, so I couldn’t tell him George had since died.

We sat in Casualty till the early hours. As we waited dramas were going on all around us. A woman kept laying on the floor and screaming, apparently she was a down and out who came in there and did this nearly every night. Whenever patients were wheeled by on trolleys George turned his head, telling us he hated hospitals so much he couldn’t bear to look.

A big black woman was in great distress, and two policemen seemed to be giving her a hard time. When they left her alone for a moment George managed to have a word with her, and it turned out she had been run over by a police car and they wouldn’t even let her phone her family to let them know why she was late home. George was furious, and immediately saw that the police were trying to intimidate the poor woman into signing something to absolve them of any responsibility, saying she had stepped out into the road without looking. The police car had run over her foot.

George got the phone number off her and told me to ring her son immediately. There was a pay phone in Casualty and I went over and lifted the receiver. One of the policemen had watched what was happening and came over and put his fingers on the receiver, cutting off the call I was trying to make. He said the woman’s husband suffered from a heart condition and the shock of me phoning could give him a heart attack. George was furious and told me to go and find another phone, and so I went off in search of one. When I found one, there was no answer the other end. However, by the time I got back into Casualty the woman’s sons had arrived. Evidently the actions taken by George and myself had forced the police to contact the woman’s family, and the sons had jumped in a car and sped over there. George smiled with satisfaction – now the police would find it difficult to make the poor woman sign a statement saying she had made the police drive over her own foot by her own negligence. The police scowled at us furiously, but could do nothing. I was really proud of George that night, and his actions proved how he would stand up for anybody being oppressed by the police with no thought of himself. Betty’s finger was duly bandaged up, she was given a shot of some antibiotic and we caught the night bus home at about 4 a.m..

At the end of August they showed the ‘Out’ program on TV which was to feature us, and we were very disappointed that only a short clip lasting a few seconds was used. It did not give any impression of George’s collage, and showed only a fleeting glimpse of us. George was very upset, but that is the way TV documentaries are made – only a tiny fraction of what is actually filmed makes its way to the screen.

The summer of 1991 was quite hot, and I went swimming up Hampstead Ponds quite a lot. This was usually in the mornings before I went to work (I worked part-time afternoons only) and I would leave George in bed. If I’d known we only had a few weeks together I probably would have stayed home more, or made a greater effort to encourage him to get out and about, but it would have been very difficult as he was so depressed.

On August Bank Holiday my mother and I spent the day in Margate, where she always used to take me and my brother as kids. George could have come with us, but decided not to. That trip to Margate was perhaps symbolic: George wasn’t with us. In Margate itself we found a little bit of the past – Addington’s pie shop was still there and we bought one of their delicious family steak pies and ate it, just as we used to years before on the beach with my grandparents. But times were changing, and we were shocked to find the Sundeck, which symbolized Margate to us, had disappeared. It was like a warning that the old was disappearing and everything would be different in future.
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Round about the end of August and beginning of September Amnesty International’s ICM (a sort of biennual conference) was finishing and at long last the Mandate was to be changed to accept homosexuals as prisoners of conscience. George had followed this debate very closely for years, and when I told him of the victory we had won he was pleased, but typically pessimistic, thinking that AI would do its best to put the new policy on its back burner. Still, I am glad he lived to see this policy change he had campaigned for. Years earlier he had written an article in ‘Gay News’ about this subject

In an update, he wondered if AIs policies would effectively change even by 2001. Progress was faster than George expected, but not as fast as some would like. Whilst some homosexual prisoners of conscience were adopted in Eastern Europe, lack of hard data on places like Iran and China mentioned in George’s article  meant little AI progress on this issue in many parts of the world.

We saw Dockyard Doris together for the last time in late August. This visit is described in greater detail in the next chapter. Early in September we saw our very last play together, a production of a Joe Orton play set in a holiday camp. It had been updated and the person running the camp (a euphemism for Great Britain) was Margaret Thatcher. The play was performed at a theater in Chelsea, in the World’s End complex. We enjoyed the play, after enjoying fish and chips bought in the excellent shop opposite, and which we ate on a bench before going into the theater.

Our 21st anniversary of meeting on September 10th we celebrated very quietly. We had stopped giving anniversary cards since suitable ones were so hard to come by, most mentioning husbands, wives or weddings. (Why did nobody think of selling gay anniversary cards? I guess they do now gays can have civil partnerships, but this didn’t apply when George was alive.) As I reported earlier, I brought George home the romantic anniversary present of take-away pie and mash!

Next day, September 11th, our Polish friend Barbara came to visit us. This made it something of a celebration dinner that evening. I believe we did mushroom vol-au-vents. We had wine, and told Barbara we were also celebrating being together 21 years. Actually, George was a bit annoyed I had invited Barbara over. She had rung saying she was in England, and I had said she could come to dinner as she always did on her visits, but this time George wasn’t very happy about it. I now realize why – he was feeling increasingly breathless and ill, and dreaded anyone seeing him and suspecting he was HIV+.

In the event the evening passed off well enough, though Barbara confessed in a letter years later that she thought George looked very ill that evening, but felt it was not her place to say anything. No doubt George’s worst fear, her suspecting he was HIV+, was indeed running through her mind. Yet I, his life-partner, could not see it, or rather, pushed it to the back of my mind. I could not allow myself to even suspect he had AIDS. I was in denial.

The dreadful two weeks after this anniversary celebration, including the ill-fated holiday in Jersey, are described in detail in the next chapter. It all started with a dreadful night sweat on the night of Thursday 12th, or more accurately, the early hours of Friday the 13th.

The last notes in George’s diary refer to plans he never lived to fulfil: ‘7th-18th Sept previews Grand Hotel (£5 off)’. He even put a leaflet for this production in his collage just before he died. Later in September George had plans to see a production at the Croydon Warehouse, and he noted Oxfam’s 50th anniversary celebrations the first week in October, a week which ended on Monday October 7th with George’s funeral.

In October he planned to go to the Purcell Room on the South Bank to see drag artist Lily Savage (Paul O’Grady) in her own show. In the event Rose and I went. We enjoyed the show as much as we could given the sad circumstances. George would have been pleased s/he went on to become a major TV personality, unlike the late Marc Fleming who never made it on TV in his own right, though some of his act was adapted by Barry Humphries in the shape of Edna Everage when she insulted her audience and the clothes they were wearing. Later in October there was a book, record and furniture sale at Battersea District Library which George planned to go to. I went and bought a book with a picture of the Biograph cinema where I met George 21 years earlier. Finally, in December, George records the planned Christmas visit to Paris he and I never made (I went with my mother instead). I am sure he did come with us, but unfortunately only in spirit. We lit a candle for him on Christmas Eve in the crypt of the Sacre Coeur church in Montmarte, one of his favorite parts of Paris, his favorite city on Earth.

 14. THE BEGINNING OF THE END.

It was about July 1991 when George developed a slight, irritating cough. Not bad enough to see the doctor, so we thought. It seemed to start in our bedroom on the night a tiny moth was flying around. George blamed the moth, or just dust in the room. When he got really ill in September I gave everything a thorough dusting, including the tops of wardrobes, but of course it was actually the beginning of pneumonia causing the cough, not dust. Whether the moth had anything to do with it I suppose I’ll never know, but the doctor at the hospital did say parrots can carry and pass on pneumonia germs, so perhaps moths can.

The cough went on, at its worst in the early mornings. As he was always in the bedroom at that time of day, we still put it down to dust or fluff in the air, possibly off the blankets. Whether George knew it was more than a cough I don’t know, but he did mention he was concerned about losing weight. He put it down to depression due to being out of work for 18 months with little prospect of ever getting another job, with the additional strain of idiots at the DHSS putting pressure on him to go to a ‘Job Club’ when what he wanted was training in the new technology, or a grant to go to university to get a degree in librarianship.

In August the loss of weight started to be noticeable about his face and eyes, which had a gaunt, hollow look. Several times I looked at him and worried momentarily about it, but pushed it to the back of my mind. The letter he wrote his sister after her fateful visit that month contained what became his epitaph, which was read out at his funeral service, about having had a good life and been everywhere and done everything he wanted. I questioned him about this premonition of death when he showed me the letter, but he just passed it off as a dramatization to make Betty feel guilty. It was not unusual for him to dramatize a bit – ‘I am a born actress’ he used to joke, but it didn’t usually go this far. I now believe George showing me that letter was his way of warning me he was dying, but he couldn’t bear to tell me to my face when I questioned him, so made out it was to make Betty feel guilty.

In retrospect he must have known there was something really wrong. Presumably he was getting very short of breath, and also the loss of weight must have been continuing and worrying him. One weekend in late August or early September George suggested going to ‘The Carpenter’s Arms’ near Marble Arch to see drag artist Dockyard Doris. This was a bit unusual, since she had been on several times before in pubs and he did not come with me mainly because of all the cigarette smoke in these places. ‘The Carpenter’s Arms’ was particularly bad that night as someone stood right next to George smoking, but strangely it did not seem to worry him unduly, and we stayed and watched the whole show. Then he suggested walking through the park from Marble Arch to Hyde Park Corner, via Speakers’ Corner, the long avenue of trees, diverting via the bandstand, and out through the gates opposite the old St George’s Hospital, where two policemen wished us good night and locked the gates behind us. I wonder, looking back, if George knew it would be the last time he would see Dockyard Doris, and the last time he would walk through Hyde Park, one of his old haunts. It would explain why he braved the cigarette smoke that once, despite his cough and shortness of breath.

Everything seemed more or less normal up until the Thursday before we left for Jersey – it would be early in the morning of Friday September the 13th, an omen if you were superstitious. A year before in 1990 Roy had died on Friday the 13th, and George felt he would die soon afterwards. He woke up sweating, and I had to change the sheets and his pajamas as they were soaked through. This of course worried him greatly, but I said I was sweating too – it was a hot night. I realized later I was only sweating where his arm was around me. This was the first sign of the really serious phase of his illness.

The next two nights he stayed up writing letters, packing and doing jobs, as he had taken the amphetamines prescribed by his doctor. On the Saturday we took our cat Tibby to a flat in Forest Hill where someone was going to look after her while we were in Jersey. We had to climb a hill from the bus, then some steps, and finally had to climb three flights of stairs to the flat. I got really worried when George said he could not climb up with the cat’s tray, and I had to go up with the cat then come down again for the tray and for George, who managed to make it by himself when he wasn’t carrying anything. This was the first time I really knew something was badly wrong, yet still I pushed it to the back of my mind.

The next day, Sunday the 15th, we caught a taxi to Victoria, then a coach to Poole. On the coach journey he seemed fine, and got off at the various stops and walked around with me. He was fine on the boat too. We walked around, and spent a lot of time writing funny captions in the shipping line’s brochure. He came on deck with me at Guernsey and took my photo. Then, when we got nearly to Jersey, he went to the toilet. He was a long time coming back, and when he finally did he was not looking very well. He said he got caught in a corridor with people all smoking their duty-free cigarettes, pipes and cigars, and it made him feel really ill. He was never the same after that – this really marked the beginning of the end, though he put on a brave face throughout the holiday.

When we got off the bus after the short ride from the boat to the hotel, George had to sit on a wall while I took the cases into the hotel. By now I was really worried and in despair. He finally made it across the road to the hotel, and the porter carried our cases to our room on the first floor (George had to use the lift the whole time we were there, though he could come down the stairs OK.) In our room he just had to rest on the bed for an hour, even though we were due to go down to dinner. It was Monday night when we arrived, and we watched Coronation Street whilst George rested, and finally they rung up for us, and George forced himself to go down to the dining room.

That evening I lay beside him on the bed crying, and he told me ‘not to think of silly things’. That was the first time I knew and admitted to myself that he was dying. I asked him to go to the local hospital where GPs were available to see tourists every morning, but he said he did not want to spend his holiday in hospital, being terrified of those places at the best of times. So I made him promise to see a doctor as soon as we got back to London.

Throughout the holiday he was very brave, and for my sake as much as his he got all around the island. It used to take him a long while to get ready in the mornings, and he had to sit down to shave, but somehow he managed and got down to all the meals. He ate like he never had before in a brave attempt, I think, to gain some weight, and he was bitterly disappointed when he had not gained any after that week.

He put his breathlessness down to traffic pollution in St Helier, and indeed he did seem a bit better once we got out of the town. We met a couple at the bus station and the woman said her husband was also affected by the pollution, which she claimed was particularly bad in St Helier as there are so many cars in such a small area. It was silly to clutch at this straw to convince ourselves George’s illness was not as serious as it was, just aggravated by pollution, but we did.
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In St Helier there is a pedestrian precinct in the center which was a godsend, since George could walk about free from traffic. There were plenty of seats where he could sit and rest too. The only hazard was smokers who were apt to pass by or even plonk themselves on the seat next to us. One haven was the little dairy in the market, where we went nearly every day to have a coffee. George loved this place as it was a ‘no smoking’ zone and one of the few places he could relax.

One day we visited Jersey Zoo, set in the lovely surroundings of Gerald Durrell’s estate. George said something which reflected what a strain he must have been under – he said it was lovely and peaceful there. He was happy just to sit on a seat and look at the lake, trees and grass. He had difficulty walking round the zoo, and noticed the slightest slope, but bravely made it and back to the bus.

On the last night he went to the bathroom along the corridor and was so long taking a bath, I eventually went along to see if he was all right. He was just coming out, and said he did have great difficulty.

The journey home was a nightmare – trying to avoid smokers and find somewhere quiet and warm to sit. At the terminal in St Helier where you waited  to board the ferry we had to keep moving to avoid smokers as they did not have a ‘no smoking’ area. Eventually we sat in the cafeteria, but even here smokers kept sitting near us, and George ended up sitting in a corner on his own while I looked out for when we had to board the ship. It was a long walk up a ramp to the ship, and George was on the point of collapse, when miraculously I found a wheelchair, and he sat in it gratefully, otherwise he could never have managed to get on board. I really believe someone on the Other Side was looking after us. How often do you find a folded, unused, spare wheelchair in a public place like that?

The boat was quite cold, and the first place we sat was noisy with music and adverts blaring out, so he made it downstairs to the lower deck where we found somewhere quieter. There were two noisy children there, but thankfully they were not around all the time. It was sunny and I went out on deck for a time. George told me to use up the roll of film in his camera, and a man who had noticed he was ill at the terminal said it was a pity that my friend could not get out on deck as the sun would do him good, but he would never have made it up the steep stairs. He did, however, manage to get to and from the toilet when he needed to.

Inside it was still quite cold. Later George told me to go along and play bingo if I wanted to, and I did, though I regretted it later. After paying the money I had to sit for ages before they started the session, so I was away for well over an hour (it was a nine hour boat journey). He wondered why I had taken so long, and I later found the notes he was writing to send a letter of complaint to the holiday company about the boat, saying it was cold, the food overpriced, and he had also made notes about my being kept waiting after paying for the bingo session before it actually started. Needless to say this letter never got written or sent, as we had other more important things on our mind, but it is so typical of George. Several times he wrote and got compensation when things on holiday hadn’t run as smoothly as they should.

The coach journey was another nightmare. The driver did not know the way, and seemed unable to read maps or signs. People had to guide him all the way or he kept going wrong. I am sure he could not read at all for even when a big sign pointed right to Central London he had to ask passengers whether to turn right or left. He could not even operate the hot and cold air switches. First it was sweltering hot, then when I and others complained it got very cold. I wish I had not complained, because the heat would have been better for George than the cold draft from the air conditioning. Eventually, when some people got off, we moved to a warmer seat where cold air was not blowing in on us.

From the coach at Victoria we hailed a taxi home, and I took the suitcases as George managed to climb the fourteen stairs to our flat for the very last time. As he came into our kitchen he sat down and said how relieved he was to be home. I knew this remark held more significance than usual – this was where he wanted to be when the worst happened. He’d come home to die.

The last terrible, yet sometimes beautiful, week was about to begin. A week that brought us closer together than ever. A week that made my whole life worthwhile, for terrible though it was, I was just glad I was there to look after him as best I could, though I was in no fit emotional state to look after myself properly, let alone anyone else. At least I could see that his last wishes were respected.

It was as if we had been given two precious weeks to say goodbye to each other before George died. The first week we were on one of our many holidays together, and George lived for me, determined to give me one last holiday to remember. The second week, as he deteriorated, I lived for him and tried to make him as comfortable as possible, and protect him from his worst fear, dying alone in hospital.

15. THE LAST WEEK TOGETHER.

I think it was that night George ate his last proper meal, which I believe was cod-in-butter-sauce, one of his favorites. We went to bed, and sometime after midnight he woke up. I was also awake as he sat bolt upright and said to me:  ‘I’m better now’, nodding his head to reassure me. He kept saying it:‘I’m better now. All the poison has gone, I’m better now.’

It was heartbreaking, since he so obviously was not better, and was still having breathing difficulties. But he said he felt as though someone had ‘touched him under the arms’ and left a sort of ‘golden glow’ which had cleared all the poison out of his body and made him better.

While I hoped for such a miracle, I was determined to call the doctor in the morning, and was not going to be put off by this claim that he was now better. At night he made strange noises in his sleep – almost talking, but not quite. As long as these and other symptoms continued I knew he was still very ill.

I have thought since that the experience he described was probably a psychic one – that indeed someone had touched him under the arms and that he was better, but in his spirit body, not his physical one. He maybe had an out-of-the-body experience, and perhaps someone had greeted him by reaching out and grabbing him under the arms, giving him a preview of how he would feel when he finally passed over – better, with all the HIV virus gone.
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Next morning I told him I was going to call the doctor, as agreed when we were in Jersey, but he wanted a particular woman doctor at the surgery where several doctors were in practice, and he wanted an appointment to go and see her. He did not want to go without an appointment and have to wait in the surgery for hours, nor did he want her coming to the flat. Of course he was putting off the final diagnosis of AIDS, I can see that now, perhaps hoping he’d die undiagnosed, though they’d surely have had a post-mortem in that case.

The earliest appointment this particular doctor could make was on the Friday, which was ridiculous in his condition. I therefore made an appointment for the Wednesday with another doctor. However, he got irritated when I told him and insisted the Friday appointment with his own doctor would be ideal.

He  said  that he thought he had caught flu on the coach journey home, and that he wanted to get rid of the symptoms or the doctor might confuse the flu symptoms with the underlying illness. He felt that by Friday the flu symptoms would have gone. Of course he was just stalling for time.

I altered the appointment to Friday, but later rang his doctor and spoke to her personally, describing his symptoms over the phone. She diagnosed a chest complaint of some kind and prescribed some antibiotics, and said if I came along to the surgery that day I could collect the prescription. So I went along and returned home much happier, as I had some medication which I could give him right away. I told him what I had done, and he seemed quite pleased, and took the medication quite happily.

The next day, however, he was no better – worse if anything. I felt I had to tell someone, so I shut the door to the bedroom and phoned my mother. We had already agreed that she could come over to see us the following Saturday, but when I broke down on the phone and said I thought George was dying, she wanted to come over right away. She tried to reassure me that George was going to be all right, and I told her not to come over that day but wait till Saturday.

George and I were sitting in the living-room watching TV when the entry-phone rang. I went to answer it and it was my mother, who had come over from Welwyn Garden City despite my telling her not to.

I was in a panic and did not know what to do. I knew George hated people coming without warning, particularly in his state of health. I thought, well if I tell him she is here he will panic and want to go to bed – the best thing is bring her straight in and then it will be all right. So this is what I did, but I regretted it afterwards. She had brought a plant (a Busy Lizzy which only survived a few weeks), and George was obviously shocked and surprised but tried to appear amiable. His cold, accusing glances at me, however, showed how angry and upset he was with me for doing this to him. Nevertheless, he tried to put on a front and even promised to come down with me next time I went to Welwyn Garden City to see her (he hated the town as much as I did and had only come with me a few times.)

My mother stayed an hour or so then left, and I walked her to the station. She agreed he looked very ill and had lost a lot of weight, but said she thought he would be OK. However, she said that I should call a doctor whether he wanted one or not, he could not wait till the Friday. I said I would continue giving him the medication and see how he was in the morning.

Back at the flat George told me what I already knew: that I had done the wrong thing. He said it had set him back considerably and made him feel much worse. It would have been better if I had invited her into the kitchen and let her have a cigarette, and then came into the living-room and broke the news to him gently, instead of bringing her straight in and not giving him time to adjust to the shock/upset of someone arriving unexpectedly and seeing him in this condition.

Still he appreciated the plant she had brought and the fact that she had only come over because she was worried. I admitted to him that I became upset on the phone when telling her how ill he was.

That evening I had to go and collect our cat from the people who were looking after her. We had already rung them and left her an extra day, and felt we could not impose any longer. George said he felt so ill he wanted to go to bed, but he could not manage it.  He’d not suffered from palpitations since the early days of our relationship 21 years ago, but now they returned in the last week of his life. Every time he started to get up he got these palpitations and became short of breath.

The shock of my mother arriving unexpectedly had made him so upset he kept panicking. I racked my brains, and in the end thought of the rocking chair we had in our music/writing room. We were going to sell it, but I was so glad we had not actually done so as this proved a godsend to us that week. I brought it into the living-room padded with plenty of cushions, and George was able to get off the couch and sit in the chair. I then was able to maneuver it along the passage into the bedroom and alongside the bed, and George was able to climb into bed. It was the next best thing to a wheelchair – a chair on runners. I left George in bed, and rushed over to southeast London, cursing myself for letting my mother in like that and apparently bringing about this setback in George’s condition.

I collected Tibby, our cat, and told Kate, who was looking after her, that George was not well, but did not tell her how ill he was. I rushed back as fast as I could, worried all the time about George. We had agreed to keep the cat in a separate room from George, as sometimes she got very boisterous and ran around like a mad thing, and he felt he could not cope with that in his condition. I think he was also worried about the emotional effect of seeing Tibby, whom he loved so much.
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When I got in I locked the cat in the kitchen, but was very pleased to see George was back in the living-room. He had remembered ‘Making Out’ was on, a comedy serial we were watching (he was also reading the book of the same name when he fell ill and died before finishing it). He knew I had promised to record it on the VCR, but was worried I might have forgotten. Anyway, the fact that he got out of bed and walked back to the living-room (or maybe crawled, but got back there somehow) reassured me that whatever set-back he had suffered, he had recovered sufficiently to do this. That night, however, I again had to get the rocking chair and maneuver him back to the bedroom.

The next morning (Wednesday) he was so much worse I was really frightened. He just lay there in bed and could not even talk. I told him again I thought I should call the doctor. By this time it was obvious he would never be able to get down to the surgery on Friday to see the doctor, if he lived that long. He shook his head when I mentioned calling the doctor, but I asked him to listen to what I had to say. I told him if I did not call the doctor and something happened, I would have to live with it for the rest of my life. Finally, in response to this emotional blackmail, he nodded his head and I went to call her.

It was not his GP but another woman doctor who arrived. I explained the situation to her, and she came in and examined him. I don’t know what she thought of the state of the place as suitcases still lay in the hall not yet unpacked, and I had not done any housework, being so worried about George. She did not seem to notice, however, and using her stethoscope she gave George an examination. She then said she did not know what was wrong, but he was obviously in a very serious condition with a severe chest complaint of some kind. He would have to go to hospital for an X-ray and tests to find out what was wrong, but George shook his head vigorously at this suggestion.

A long session followed. I went out of the room with the doctor and she explained that she did not know what was wrong, but it could be a growth (cancer) since he had obviously lost so much weight. Whatever it was it could only be diagnosed by an X-ray. The equipment could be brought to the flat, but the results would not be known for a day or so, whereas if he went to hospital they would get the results straight away. We went back into the bedroom and she explained all this to him (obviously not mentioning the possibility of cancer). She added that if he just lay there he would die from starvation if nothing else (he was now not eating, just taking water.)

Somewhere along the line I felt it necessary to explain to the doctor that, whatever was wrong with George and although we were a gay couple, it could not be AIDS as we were always careful about safer sex. One of George’s fears about hospitals, apart from the memory of seeing his father dying in one under intensive care with tubes in his nose and throat, was prompted by several press stories about gays admitted into hospital for broken bones, etc. and being immediately isolated and only treated by staff wearing masks and rubber gloves because, in these early days of ignorance, they thought all gay people were likely to be carrying the HIV virus, and seemed to think they could catch it by touching the patient or breathing the air near them.

After the doctor had gone I told George why I had mentioned AIDS, and he agreed with me that I had to tell her there was no possibility of this diagnosis being correct as this would be the first conclusion the hospital would jump to once they realized we were a gay couple. On the other hand, if we did not tell the hospital of our relationship I might be denied access to him as next of kin. Even so back in 1991 gay partners of 21 years standing and more had no legal rights to be at their dying partner’s bedside in intensive care, or even to attend the funeral. This was the terrible dilemma which added to his fear of hospitals and made it all so complicated.

In the end the doctor explained that no-one could force him to stay in hospital and although she would strongly advise against it, he could sign himself out once the X-ray was done and come home. On that basis, he finally nodded his head in agreement that he would go to hospital for the X-ray. Like me, the doctor must have inwardly sighed with relief, and she called an ambulance to take him to St George’s hospital in Tooting before she left. She had also mentioned St Thomas’s, where George had been before for his deafness, and I curse myself for not insisting on St Thomas’s.  In the light of what happened it might have made all the difference.

The ambulance arrived, and the crew, a man and a woman in green paramedic overalls, were so kind. They told George to stop panicking, and said his heart was ‘pumping like a steam-engine. Calm down George, calm down for goodness sake’. He told me afterwards this ambulance crew really built up his confidence and helped overcome his fear of hospitals. At the hospital we were immediately split up and I was put in the waiting room. In case he changed his mind about staying in hospital I had brought a bag with some pajamas and his medication, including Cordosyl mouthwash for his mouth ulcers. Somehow the contents of the bottle leaked out and I had to go in the toilet and clean up the mess.

George told me afterwards they took him for an X-ray, and the staff there were also very kind and further boosted his confidence, and at that stage he would not have minded going into hospital as an in-patient. Then they put him in a cubicle to await the results. As his partner of 21 years, I should have been with him, and I suppose I should have made a big fuss, asked what was happening and explained the situation. But in the back of my mind I was thinking if I told them we were gay at this stage, they’d get out the masks and rubber gloves assuming we both had AIDS, like in those horror stories we’d read in the press.

Finally a doctor came to see George and his abrupt, aggressive and hostile attitude undid all the good work of the GP, the ambulance crew and the X-ray and nursing staff. I don’t know exactly what the doctor said to George, but his whole manner was brusque and unsympathetic. He confirmed George’s worst suspicions by asking for further tests such as a sample of blood, which George refused. Finally George got so mad he actually spoke for the first time that awful day and told the doctor to: ‘Piss off!’ (George told me this later.)

At that stage they called for me in desperation, but the damage had already been done. The doctor wanted to admit George into hospital, but George insisted on going home, claiming there was nothing wrong with him. I told the doctor it was up to George, and if he wanted to go home I was not going to stop him.

The doctor then took me aside into another cubicle, and started asking me if I knew what the illness was. He said it was a kind of pneumonia, and kept dropping strong hints that there was more to it than that. I still did not know exactly what he meant, but had an idea what he might be leading up to. Sure enough he said this type of pneumonia only occurs in people whose immune system is damaged, and he asked if I knew what he meant now. I asked whether he was talking about the HIV virus, and he said he was. I told him there was no way George could have that, and the doctor admitted they could not be 100% certain since George had not allowed them to do a blood test.

In retrospect it all seems so silly, since if George and I were right and the hospital were just jumping to conclusions because we were gay, a blood test could prove he was HIV negative. But of course we must have both known in our hearts they were probably right, and didn’t want these suspicions confirmed. We were both in denial.

This is where the hospital doctor was so wrong in how he handled the situation. I later discovered that there were proper trained HIV counselers in a ward above where we were sitting, and one of those could have been brought down to break the news to us. This doctor was not trained to do this, or cope with the reaction, and it was quite wrong of him to practically accuse me of infecting George with a deadly virus, but this was how the message came across to me due to his aggressive, hostile manner.  He did not break the news to me gently or sensitively, but almost shouted: ‘YOU know what he’s got, don’t you?’ As if I’d infected him, or as if all gay couples were riddled with HIV. He was not at all sympathetic, in fact totally hostile. I suppose George’s uncooperative attitude had not helped, but this is why trained counselers should have been called in.

Actually there was no need to even mention HIV at that stage – all the doctor had to say was that George had a type of pneumonia. If he’d done this, and been more sympathetic like the X-ray and ambulance staff, George would probably have agreed to be admitted, and might even have recovered, though at this late stage it was doubtful anything could have saved him. However, trained HIV counselors could have broken the news about his HIV status and exactly what kind of pneumonia he had afterwards, perhaps even a day or so later. It was just too much to take in all at once – that George was HIV+, had full blown AIDS and would probably die within days.

The doctor then took me back to George’s cubicle, and in a state of shock I blurted out what the doctor had told me: ‘He says it’s AIDS’. Our worst fears confirmed: because we were obviously a gay couple the hospital had assumed his illness was AIDS.

I’m sure George had already gathered this was their diagnosis from what the doctor had said to him, but he still insisted there was nothing wrong with him and he wanted to go home. We both felt the doctor had jumped to the AIDS conclusion when he realized George was gay and hadn’t considered any other diseases. George claimed he had even sent a ‘young good-looking doctor’ to try and persuade George to have a blood test and to stay in hospital as an in-patient, but George had still refused.

The hostile doctor came back in with the release form for George to sign, disclaiming the hospital of any responsibility for what might happen if George discharged himself against medical advice. They were saying there was some hope if George was admitted as they could give him medication intravenously and monitor him, but any drugs they gave him at home would be less effective.

The appalling insensitivity of this doctor became quite apparent when George was holding the form ready to sign and I told him it was up to him whether he stayed in hospital or went home, and George confirmed he wanted to go home. The doctor was standing right next to me and George at this point, but he turned to me and said: ‘Of course you understand that with this condition he’s got not enough oxygen gets to the brain, and he may not realize what he is saying.’

That clinched it for both of us.  Now this doctor was trying to deny George the right to go home, saying he was not in possession of his faculties. No way would George stay in now, and I knew it. This fool of a doctor had signed George’s death warrant as soon as he hinted at HIV infection instead of just saying pneumonia or else calling a trained counselor to break the news, and by now suggesting right in front of George that he was not in a fit state of mind to make decisions this stupid doctor had finally destroyed all hope that George might agree to treatment.

They wanted to put him on an intravenous drip, but this was the very thing George’s father had been on and which George most feared. All George’s worst nightmares about hospitals were coming true, and he just could not get out of there fast enough. He signed the form, and as we waited for the ambulance to take us home I cheered him up a bit by describing how the Cordosyl bottle had leaked in the bag and made the kind of mess which was so typical of me. Then the doctor came and gave me two lots of tablets for George to take at home, but made it quite clear his only real hope was to be admitted and have antibiotics administered intravenously.

In the ambulance, as on the journey to the hospital, George stared out of the window all the time. It was his last ride, and he later mentioned that we had passed ‘The Hole In The Wall’ café in Clapham Junction where we sometimes ate, and where I believe he had sometimes eaten with Rose in the 1960s before meeting me. He said that on the outward journey he had a warm feeling as he looked out of the ambulance window, so it seems he had some kind of mystical experience which calmed him. The ambulance windows were smoked glass, which may have enhanced the surreal effect he experienced.

Back home the ambulance crew put him on the couch in the living-room, and when they had gone George told me to throw away the pills the hospital doctor had given us. I was heartbroken, since I knew this was the last slim hope that George would survive. Having finally gotten him to hospital he was now refusing to take the medication they had given him. That wretched doctor had so destroyed George’s confidence he would not take anything he had prescribed.

It might have all been so different had we gone to St Thomas’s and seen a more sympathetic doctor, and been offered counseling before, during and after the process of breaking the bad news of HIV infection to us. We were offered no counseling whatsoever, and I was left with no support when George died.

It was an absolute disgrace – neither of us really knew anything about HIV or its symptoms, and there was nobody to enlighten us and answer our many questions. We were left completely in the dark. All we knew was George had some kind of pneumonia we’d never heard of, PCP. Since we were not even told how they’d diagnosed that, we thought they’d jumped to the wrong conclusion. That was why George refused to take the medication, because we’d not been offered any trained counseling to explain the situation. To us it seemed it was a case of hospitals assuming if you’re ill and you’re gay you most probably have AIDS, and handing out pills which might or might not help.

At least they’d organized a community nurse to come round and help me with the care of George at home. Unknown to either of us she only worked with HIV+ patients. As soon as I saw Louise I knew she was the right person for George, she was so sympathetic.

After a little talk with me in the spare bedroom (our music/work room decorated with George’s music collage) where she tried to comfort me, I went into George and told her she was here, and then introduced her. I will never forget the wonderful smile which lit up George’s whole features as he saw her and she told him she was Louise and she had come to help us. It was the first time he had smiled for days, and I had never seen him smile like that ever before. It was a look of almost ecstasy and sheer relief after the dreadful experience of the hospital and the Doctor from Hell. George shook her hand and kept saying: ‘You’re an angel.’

Louise helped me get the spare bed down in the living room and made it up with a special, thick waterproof mattress she had brought with her. She put it alongside the couch so we could lie next to each other, and George could see the TV. She then promised to make arrangements for all sorts of disposable pads and tissues, a bottle and bedpan and all the other paraphernalia very sick bedridden patients need. She also promised to arrange a home help for me, and for nurses to come every day and stay overnight in the case of an emergency. I told her I could manage without a night nurse, but would be grateful for a nurse to come in every day and help wash and shave George.

After she had gone George kept saying what an angel she was – he obviously felt she was a very special person sent to help us in our greatest time of need. He was an excellent judge of character, and I am sure he was right.
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We watched TV that night lying beside each other, him on the bed and me on the sofa. By this time he was only drinking water and sometimes a little milk, but no solids. I did try and give him scrambled egg once, but he could not manage it. I felt guilty earlier in the week when he asked for a shelled boiled egg and I made a mess of it, not knowing how to get the complete shell off an egg which was still hot. I did not eat properly all week either – I think I just grabbed pieces of cold steak and kidney pie.

That night I was afraid to go to sleep in case he died. He seemed so weak, and at one point that look of sheer ecstasy came back into his face as he looked up at the ceiling as though seeing something. It is impossible to describe the look on his face, but it was obvious he was having some marvelous psychic experience of some kind. Like a fool I kept asking him what he could see, and making guesses, till he said to me through clenched teeth: ‘Shut up.’
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Trust me to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, so I was quiet after that and just watched him. I knew he was very near death, but I had never actually seen anyone die before and wanted to stay awake. I had to know he had passed from this world into the next, and I kept thinking of my mother’s Uncle Jack who, just before he died, gave a wonderful smile and said: ‘Oh, Bess’, the name of his long dead wife whom he obviously saw coming to greet him as he passed over.

I wondered whether George would see his mother and father, but as I lay beside him looking at him, quite unable to sleep, he kept looking back at me. We looked deep into each other’s eyes, and I could see a concerned look in his. He kept looking up at the vision, then back at me, and I am sure my deep love for him and his for me brought him back from the brink of death. Something I was to regret later. It was as if he had seen the wonderful world which was awaiting him the Other Side, hence the look of ecstasy, but I was holding him back and he felt he couldn’t leave me because it would hurt me so much.

That night he was incontinent both ways, and I had to clean him up and change the sheets several times. I put them in the bath, thinking a nurse would collect them and take them to be washed in the hospital laundry, certainly I was in no fit emotional state to do anything but lay by George and see to his immediate needs.

I later found out the nurse would not collect the dirty laundry, and in the end just soaked it in the bath. We soon ran out of sheets and had to manage with just blankets. If I had been better organized I could have gone down the laundrette for a service wash (we had no washing machine), but I hated leaving him even for a few minutes in case something happened whilst I was out of the room, and I was often expecting the doctor or nurse to call in person or phone, so I never managed it. I just couldn’t put my mind to housework of any kind – all I wanted to do was grab every precious second next to George before he left me forever. I’d never have forgiven myself if I was washing sheets or something equally mundane when he slipped away into the next world without me next to him.

The first time I cleaned him up he said: ‘I wondered when you would notice. Remember, I had to do the same for you that time?’ He was referring to when I came back very drunk from a party at work, staggered into the toilet and collapsed whining: ‘Help me, help me, I want to die….’. I was incontinent and he cleaned me up and got me to bed.

Next day his GP, or at least the woman doctor he had seen the day before, came round and I took her in the spare bedroom and explained that he would not touch the hospital doctor’s medication. I asked if she could prescribe something different, but she said she could not overrule the hospital doctor or alter his prescription. George had already told me he would take anything his GP prescribed, so she agreed to take the hospital doctor’s pills into George and say she recommended them, which she then did.

George was obviously too ill or confused to realize they were the same pills. I felt a bit guilty about this mild deception, but what else could we do? Later he did ask what happened to the hospital medication, and I just said I had given them to his GP. This was quite true, but I did not then add these were the same pills she recommended and which he was now taking when he could manage them. In actual fact, he never managed to take anything like the full daily dose. Some small pills which just had to be swallowed were OK, but four big pills which had to be dissolved in water 4 times a day were too difficult for him. Someone else on the same medication later told me they made you feel very sick and were horrible to swallow. George took some of them, but nothing like the full daily dose.

However, that Thursday he did seem much better even without much medication, and was talking quite lively. Both the doctor and Louise seemed quite amazed at the improvement. A nurse came to wash George, but she called at a particularly awkward moment when George was using a bowl as an improvised bedpan (we were still waiting for the proper one Louise had promised). George had made a tremendous effort to get out of bed on to the floor in order to use it. He made the supreme effort, which caused him many palpitations, because he did not want to create more mess for me to clean up. Anyway, the nurse had to leave in the end without seeing him, but Louise had arranged for a night nurse to call about 10pm and stay till morning in case George was taken worse, or had another incontinent night.

That evening the night nurse arrived and I sat her in the spare bedroom and said I would call her if I needed her. She sat and read a book, and I was not at all impressed with her. She was not a bit sympathetic, and seemed to me like a yuppy on a cushy number. Even when I went in to ask her advice about giving George his medication, something I thought she was meant to assist me with, she was most unhelpful, and just seemed to be enjoying drinking my coffee and being paid for sitting reading a book. Absolutely useless!

In the end I had to tell her to go because her presence in the house was worrying George, even though he had not even met her. Imagine my surprise when she asked for the taxi fare to Earls Court, claiming she had come by public transport without the taxi fare to get home again. I had to give her £10, and after George died received a bill addressed to George for her ‘services’. Louise said it was a mistake and got the Health Authority to pay for it eventually, but such insensitivity is incredible. I never got the £10 taxi fare back. I do think she should have come with enough money to get home again anytime during the night – for all she knew George could have taken a turn for the worse and an ambulance could have whisked us both to hospital.

At this stage my memory gets a bit confused as to the exact sequence of events, but sometime early Friday George became very animated, obviously trying to cheer me up and take our minds off things. We re-told many humorous personal jokes and performed sketches we had done years earlier, and he even asked me to tell him a new humorous story using my funny voices. I made one up about a yuppy night nurse who was on to a good thing sitting drinking coffee in someone else’s house, listening to her Walkman and reading, and not doing a stroke of work all night.

George started singing to me, and one song in particular over and over. It was a camp song about giving ‘the performance of my life’, which is of course exactly what he was doing for my benefit that day. It sounded like a Shirley Bassey song, or possibly Dorothy Squires, but I have been unable to identify it from George’s records. He made me learn the words of the verses he was singing over and over, and it went like this:

‘Tonight I gave the performance of my life,

All the roles I played, I knew the parts so well

They could never tell

That I was lying.

And yet, if they had looked behind that final curtain as it fell

They’d have seen this actress, dying.’

Occasionally he mixed up the words, switching ‘lying’ and ‘dying’. When I repeated this version back to him he pretended to get annoyed with me, quoting Marc Fleming the acid-tongued drag queen who was always saying to her inebriated co-partner, Mrs Shufflewick: ‘Trust you to fuck it up.’

But it was a happy day, and when the nurse came to wash and shave him he again would not see her, but then let me invite her in whereupon we explained we were on a sort of ‘high’ laughing and joking together and having a great time, and George sang his song to her, doing Shirley Bassey type hand movements to illustrate he was an ‘actress’ giving the ‘performance of his life’.

The young nurse went away rather bemused, and perhaps rather annoyed at wasting her time, but we were happy together that day for the last time in our lives together. There was some bizarre behavior, but we both laughed as at that moment it seemed nothing mattered and we didn’t have a care in the world.
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We sang each other songs – another one he kept singing was John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’. As he also kept saying the word ‘love’ over and over again, I altered the words sometimes when I sung it back to him to ‘Give Love A Chance’. I also sung him some of his favorite songs, such as ‘Kathleen So Fair and Bright’ (his father’s favorite) and ‘Mammy’ which always reminded him of his mother. Normally these songs made him cry, but he was so close to death and being reunited with his long-dead parents I felt they were appropriate, and he seemed to appreciate them. It was all part of saying goodbye to each other, letting go and preparing to move on.

Here I get more confused, but I think it was later that day he started to become delirious, talking nonsense and making repetitive movements (such as enacting taking real and imaginary rings off his fingers.) Louise called round, and by this time George had agreed to let our cat into the room and she was lying peacefully on his bed. He kept talking to Louise and me about the world being destroyed by environmental damage, a thing he was very concerned about in recent years, but this had an hysterical urgency about it. He also kept pointing at a cupboard and shouting to us: ‘Get the drip, the drip. Get the drip for the cat.’

I tried to make a joke of it, saying: ‘Why should we put a drip on the poor cat, when you don’t want one yourself?’  In the kitchen I told Louise I felt I had lost him already, since his mind was obviously very confused.

Later that afternoon the nurse returned to wash and shave him, and he let her do it, saying: ‘If you don’t mind shaving away four or five day’s stubble.’ He was quite calm while she shaved him, however after she had given him a bed bath he would not let her put his pajama trousers on. He kicked violently with his legs and actually ripped them. Then he asked for a glass of water and threw it over himself.

It was scary, and I was very distressed at this behavior. I took the nurse outside the room and said I did not know if I could cope with this latest turn of events. I felt I needed trained people around in case he tried to injure himself or me, and asked not for the first time if there was anywhere we could go and be together all the time with trained staff on hand should they be needed, but where they would not give him medical treatment if he did not want it. I now know there are hospices, but this was never offered to us. All they could suggest, after phone calls to his GP and Louise, was a room in St George’s hospital where we could be together 24 hours a day (it had two beds) and where they promised not to give him any treatment unless he wanted it.

Thinking this would be better than nothing if he was going to get increasingly disturbed and start destroying things and throwing water over himself, I said I would talk it over with him and see what he thought. Before I had a chance the phone rang, and it was his GP to say an ambulance was on its way and I had about 30 minutes before they arrived.

I flew into a blind panic. There were so many things to do. I had to hide stuff away I did not want my family and people to see (thinking George might well die and goodness knows who might have to come into the flat), and I had to search round for pajamas, toilet things, etc. for both of us. Before I have even had a chance to discuss anything with George the ambulance arrived, and I had to make the crew sit in the kitchen while I went and spoke to George (at least I had learned that lesson from my mother’s unexpected arrival.)  I repeated the sentiments to the ambulance crew I had already expressed to the GP over the phone when she said the ambulance was already on its way:

‘You’re much too quick. It’s all happening too fast. I haven’t had a chance to even discuss it with him yet. It was just an idea, and I don’t know if he’ll agree. You should have waited and come much later, after we’d had a chance to talk it over.’

I went in and spoke to him, but as soon as I mentioned an ambulance and St George’s Hospital he would not even consider the idea. ‘No, it’s a trap’, he said. ‘They say they won’t give me any medical treatment, but once they get me there they will.’

On reflection I have to admit to myself that he was probably right. Why else would they treat it as an emergency admission and rush over an ambulance if they were not going to give him any treatment? Once a person is in hospital it is considered unethical to just let them die, so I think they would have given him treatment unless he signed himself out again. At the time, however, I took them at their word.

I went in the kitchen and told the ambulance crew to go back to the hospital as it was all a mistake. They came before we had even discussed the idea, and the patient did not want to go into hospital. They would not take my word for it, and put their head in the door to ask George, who insisted he did not wish to be admitted into hospital, and so they left.

I think the shock of the ambulance arriving unannounced had an effect on George because his behavior returned to normal from then on and he had no more delirium at all.  I was thankful for that at least. I had lost him when his mind went and felt it wouldn’t matter where he was since he seemed confused or unaware of his surroundings, but now he was very definitely aware and knew where he wanted to be, home with me and our cat. I had him back again for a few precious days.

That night he nearly died again. He kept telling me to ‘let go’ and this confirmed to me that he had indeed nearly died two nights ago but that my love for him had brought him back.  I therefore did my best to do as he said. I did say ‘I love you’ and said his name several times, but he said: ‘Don’t!’ So I turned round with my back towards him as we lay side by side and told him I was letting go. Still he hung on, and in the end, to relieve the awful tension I suppose and to try to urge him on his way, since I did not know how much longer I could refrain from turning and hugging him, I said: ‘For God’s sake go!’

It was the wrong thing to say I know, and he rebuked me for saying it. I explained I was sorry, but I could not stand much more of this. He then kept asking for a drink of water, and I told him he knew I could not refuse him that. I gave it to him, he drank it and once again came back from the brink. We loved each other so much he was finding it just as difficult to let go and move on as I was.

Next morning, Saturday, Louise came and I told her in the kitchen that, like an old actress, George was making ‘more comebacks than Marlene Dietrich’ or something to that effect. I just kept hoping for a miracle, or a wrong diagnosis, and at least he was taking some of the pills. In fact his original GP, a man who had prescribed amphetamines for him for years, was on duty that weekend and came to see him, and told me over the phone later that the pills were ‘his only hope’ and for me to try to see he took the full dose. It was an impossible task, but I did my very best.

Later that day the nurse came, but it was not the young nurse he had let shave him the previous day. She was off duty or on holiday, and instead there was a fierce-looking black woman who reeked of garlic. I should have turned her away then and there but I did not want to offend her. Any strange nurse would have been too traumatic for him, but this one looked so hostile and George could never stand the smell of garlic anyway.

Louise had told me these nurses had a fairly tight schedule and other patients to see, so I should just show them straight in whether George was ready or not, and so this is what I did. I should have known better after the episode with my mother. I went out of the room for something, and when I got back George was in a terrible state. The nurse was sitting in a chair at the end of his bed looking at him fiercely and telling him to ‘drink your medicine’ while George looked furiously back at her, but with a frightened look in his eye. He spoke to her accusingly: ‘I asked you to open the curtains. Why did you ignore me?’

I thought I had better let her wash him quickly and get her out of the flat as she was clearly upsetting him badly, but as I pulled open the curtains I realized that the neighbors across the street could see her giving him a bed bath, so I closed them again. ‘That was why I didn’t open them,’ the nurse explained to him.

She washed him quickly but did not attempt to help me make him comfortable in bed. He did not want her to shave him, so I ushered her out as quickly as I could, and went back and opened the door and windows to get rid of the reek of garlic.

‘Oh she was horrible, horrible’, he kept saying. ‘You shouldn’t have let her in. She just kept staring at me and telling me to drink my medicine. She wouldn’t open the curtains when I asked her.’

I tried to calm him down and apologized, especially for the reek of garlic. Then George got it into his head that she was the same woman who had shouted at him a year or so ago when we had been on our way to Clapham Junction railway station to catch a train to Hastings. I had popped into the newsagents to get a paper while he waited outside, and a black woman sweeping up in the street had told him: ‘Don’t hang around here. There’s no little boys for you round here.’

This completely unprovoked verbal abuse upset George so much he was in tears, which was very unusual for him. When I came out of the newsagents he explained what had happened and I shouted at the woman, telling her not to make libelous accusations of that sort. As George said on his way to the station: ‘Why did she say that to me? I’m not interested in little boys. I’m not even interested in sex at all.’

This was quite true. Unless he had taken the stimulants prescribed by his doctor he had absolutely no sex drive whatsoever, and could not even talk about it. Moreover, he had no interest at all in boys or teenagers. When he was in the mood macho men over 40 were his ideal type. The whole thing was just so unfair and cruel, and she could only have guessed he was gay from seeing us both together or from some hunch.

Anyway, poor George thought this nurse was the same woman, and I tried to reassure him she was not, though he did not believe me. I then promised I would not let any other nurses come in (apart from Louise, the community nurse whom he trusted) and that I would wash and look after him myself. I went straight away and canceled all the nursing visits.

I still had not gotten any home help because, although I had spoken to the person who organized it and signed the necessary forms, it took a week to organize. By the time I could have had it George had died and I no longer needed it. I still feel bitter that George had to die without clean sheets in a dirty flat because there was no emergency provision for home helps, and I was in no fit emotional state to do housework. It has to be said, though, that refusing to go into hospital and not wanting any visitors meant George brought the situation largely on himself because I just couldn’t cope on my own, I was emotionally and physically shattered.

Louise on previous visits had broken up ice from our fridge and given it to George to soothe his dry lips and mouth. Later that day it broke my heart when he asked her for more ice, and I told her how upset I was.

‘Why, just because he asked for ice?’ Louise asked. Yes, because I then knew he was not getting better after the upturn the previous day when he had been in such high spirits. I still feel guilty that I had not made fresh ice, that I had not bought fresh Vaseline for his dry lips but used the remnants of an old jar and most of all that I completely forgot there was ice-cream in the freezer which would have been ideal for his dry lips and mouth. I only discovered it weeks later.

Yet I did do my best, I was just in no fit emotional state to be looking after a dying lover on my own. In just a few days I had been brutally told that my life-partner was HIV+, and that he was now dying of AIDS. How on Earth could I think straight, let alone leave him alone to go out and do shopping and washing, or even hoover round the flat? I didn’t even eat properly, and George wasn’t eating either, just drinking water.

Since he found it very difficult to drink from a glass, I had improvised with little bottles from which he was able to drink more easily. I felt so ashamed when he sheepishly pointed out to me the muck around the inside screw-neck of a plastic yogurt-drink bottle I was using for his drinking water, and I rushed to the bathroom to scrub it clean with a toothbrush.

Looking back though, I really did my best in a terrible emotional state, suffering from lack of food and lack of sleep, and I am sure he understood. After all, it was his choice not to have any trained professional care, friends or relatives around him as he was dying. There were loads of people who would have helped us, but George was adamant would not have any of them in the flat. Even if we’d been offered a hospice he probably would have refused to go, especially if it was the Lighthouse or anything connected with AIDS. He, and I, were still in complete denial that he was HIV+ or that he had AIDS.

That Saturday afternoon we watched Pavarotti’s 30th anniversary concert (plus guests) recorded in Italy some months previously. We had it on videotape but had not gotten around to watching it before. All the way through he was hoping Pavarotti would sing an aria from ‘La Boheme’ which he had been reminded of when the music was used in an episode of the sitcom ‘Bread’ earlier in the week. I remember how moving the music was, though it only lasted a few seconds. Near the end of the Pavarotti concert I had to answer the phone. By the time I got back Pavarotti was singing the aria he had been waiting and hoping for. This was one of the last TV programs we saw together.
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George did not want people to know he was ill, and certainly did not want them coming around, but he agreed to me telling some of our closest friends that he was ill. On the Friday I phoned his cousin in Scotland and told her to tell the rest of the family. He was not on speaking terms with his sister Betty since her fateful visit in August, but I knew they all had to be told or I would be blamed if he died and had not even told them he was ill. His cousin rang back to tell me she had told the family, and his sister Betty would be ringing back next day to see how he was. She never rang since she was away at her caravan, but she got her daughter to ring on the Saturday. I told her George was lying in bed watching TV, but certainly did not give the impression he was anything but very ill. I was disappointed Betty had not even rung herself, but really thought she could have driven down in her car and made it up with George before he died.

There was plenty of time from when she was told he was ill Friday night to late Sunday when he died. I could have done with the presence of one of his family both when he died and afterwards, to help arrange the funeral and everything. But they did not attempt to come near for a week, leaving me to do it all by myself. I know George would have said he didn’t want Betty to come down and see him before he died, yet I think if she had done he would have seen her and they would have made it up before he died, because deep down he was really fond of her.

The fact that she had rushed down to see him would have probably made him realize she did have feelings for him and that she was sorry for her thoughtless actions in the past. Sadly, her failure to even ring let alone visit him confirms George’s analysis that she was completely wrapped up in her children and grandchildren and that her brother was ‘out of sight, out of mind’ even as he lay dying. She couldn’t say she wasn’t warned. There was the letter from George saying he was seriously ill and would die soon, and I wouldn’t have rung and said he was very ill unless it was extremely serious.
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We did watch some more TV after the Pavarotti tape. I believe we watched the comedy series ‘Birds Of A Feather’ with its poignant signature tune containing the line ‘what will I do when you are far away and I’m alone, what will I do?’ Later we started to watch a strange satirical play about South Africa, but it was too weird and we turned it off.

Later that night George had fallen asleep with me beside him, and I put my arm gently across to hold him. I have regretted it ever since because he woke up and was unable to sleep ever again. The room we were in was scaring him. He seemed to be almost hallucinating, seeing strange faces in familiar objects like the standard lamp. It had a big white globe with decorative metal leaves surrounding the bottom. George kept seeing it as the bald domed head, white make-up and big painted eyes and mouth of Lindsay Kemp. I could see what he meant – two leaves formed the eyes and a third the mouth. ‘Why is Lindsay Kemp looking at me like that?’ he said. So I removed the lamp from the room, but still he was disturbed. I moved a brightly colored blanket but it was no good, so in the end I had to get the rocking chair and maneuver him back into the bedroom for the last time. Once in bed, however, he still could not sleep.

On the last day of George’s life, Sunday September 29th 1991, neither of us had slept. I cannot remember the details of that awful day, except he was very ill and frightened. I think it was early afternoon when, for the first time in his illness, he started getting chest pains down his left side. They grew worse, and he asked me to call the doctor. Louise and his GP came, and after talking with George and getting his agreement, they arranged for oxygen and some morphine, which would be administered intravenously via a pump syringe. The fact that George had agreed to the two things, apart from hospitals, that he feared most – an oxygen mask and intravenous medication – conveyed to me that he was indeed on his deathbed and must be suffering badly, or be very scared of the pain he feared might come.
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When the equipment finally arrived, after several hours during which George asked me over and over why it was taking so long, the oxygen tubes up his nose were of no help, so he agreed to a plastic mask. This did not help much either, nor did the morphine from the pump syringe. He kept asking me:

‘Why isn’t it working?’ All I could say was that even aspirin takes half-an-hour or so to have an effect. However, about an hour passed and still he kept asking why it was not working.

When they had brought the equipment my hopes had been raised because I thought George had finally agreed to the treatment which could save him, but Louise had disillusioned me immediately:

‘You do realize he is going to die don’t you? This treatment won’t save him, it will just ease the pain and help him breathe more easily.’ She had also told me he might turn quite blue, particularly his lips.
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As I looked at him it was obvious he was dying. Indeed his lips were turning bluish. Most of the time he did not bother with the oxygen mask, since the pain seemed to be worrying him more than the breathing problems. In retrospect I now believe he was suffering from heart failure. I later questioned Louise about this possibility, and she said the pains in the left side of his chest could have been either the pneumonia or heart failure.

The pneumonia and struggle to breathe would certainly have strained his heart, and there is a history of heart problems in his family. His mother died of a heart attack at an early age, and his sister Betty had a heart by-pass operation. George himself had a history of minor heart trouble and suffered from palpitations in times of stress, and was regularly attending a heart hospital when I met him. However, his palpitations subsided once we settled into a steady relationship and he was not so stressed. These palpitations returned with a vengeance during the final two weeks of his life, in Jersey and the last week at home.

I asked him if the pain was very bad or just average, and he said it was average though I’m not sure what that meant. Obviously it was quite bad, or he was scared it would get worse, but I hope the morphine did help.

He said several times: ‘Why am I going through all this?’ I understood what he meant. Twice he had nearly died peacefully without any pain, and yet he had come back from the brink to suffer this final agony. I felt guilty and told him that I had tried to ‘let go’ the other night, but he did not seem to blame me.

It seems that apart from the physical pain he was suffering and the emotional pain of leaving me, he was worried about his cousin’s husband who had been ill. George told me he was worried about his cousin and had to stay around to look after her. He felt her husband was ill and would die next year. I went and rang Margaret, explaining that George was worried about her husband John, but she assured me he was fine. I told George and promised that if he got bad again I would go up to Scotland and look after his cousin. That seemed to reassure him a bit. (I felt guilty when Margaret’s husband did die some years later, and I only found out about it months later. I did offer to go up, but it was really too late by then.)

A little while after this exchange about his cousin and her husband, George looked at me with a frightened look and said something which, in the light of things he had said in the past week, seemed very strange. It was also heartbreaking: ‘I’m not going to die, am I?’
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What could I say? I could have lied and said: ‘No, you’ll be fine.’ Then a deliberate lie would have been one of the last things I said to him. I just muttered something about ‘I don’t know’, yet we both really knew he was dying. Had we not been talking about it all week?

I had even asked whether he wanted me to keep his collages up-to-date, and he had said that he preferred me to leave them as they were. When he was delirious and had taken off the ring I gave him 21 years before, I put it on my finger next to the one with the ring he’d given me at the same time, held my hand up for him to approve, and he had said it did not look right on that finger. He was right and months later I changed it to a finger on my other hand.

So he definitely knew he was dying, and yet he asked me that dreadful question right near the end, and in a heart-rending last-minute panic and determination to live he insisted on drinking a full glass of the dissolved tablets, that awful medicine he found so difficult to swallow. This was literally minutes before he died, and I can only think he was scared of the pain he was suffering, and that it would get worse as he approached death.

I therefore tried to take his mind off things. He could not sleep, so I suggested reading to him. I gave him a last cuddle, but he asked me to do it very gently in view of his chest pains. It was a nightmare, I couldn’t even cuddle and comfort him at the end. As I lay there beside him in the bed I said a little prayer (I don’t know who to, just Spirit) ‘to cut short his suffering by letting him go quickly’. That prayer was the hardest and most unselfish thing I have ever done in my life, and it was answered very quickly because I had finally ‘let go’ releasing him from his agony.

Since he was still in pain and could not sleep, I suggested taking him back into the living-room so he could watch TV, which might take his mind off the pain. He agreed this would be a good idea, so I went to get the rocking chair and maneuvered it next to the bed. I then removed the bedclothes, and he must have exerted an enormous effort in order to sit up with his legs on the floor over the side of the bed. His last words to me were: ‘What shall I do with this?’

He was indicating the pump syringe still attached to his arm. I told him to place it on his lap and hold it as I helped him up and into the chair. This he did, and I held him as he stood up, twisted round and sat in the chair. However, as we performed this maneuver I noticed a change in his breathing pattern and as I looked at him sitting in the chair I knew he had already gone.

That is to say his spirit had left his body, yet he was still breathing albeit in a very irregular manner. His eyes were staring and his mouth was open, but he was still breathing. Yet I knew he was no longer there. I stood for a moment relieved it was all over, yet shocked – and puzzled as to why he was still breathing. Presently the breathing stopped, and as a last desperate measure I slipped the oxygen mask over his face and turned the oxygen on high, while I went to phone the doctor. This seems an illogical thing to have done in the circumstances, but I felt I had to give him every last chance to live even though I had asked for his suffering to be cut short.

Of course the oxygen had no effect, so I removed the oxygen mask. I seemed to be remarkably calm because I had asked either the doctor or Louise over the phone (I can’t remember which) whether I should lift George out of the chair on to the bed before rigor mortis set in, and this is what I did. I looked at his body in a completely detached manner, because I knew this ‘thing’ was not my George. He had departed even before his body had stopped breathing.

This to me is convincing evidence that it was not imagination. Had he stopped breathing when I felt his spirit had left his body that could arguably be an explanation, but even though signs of life were still there I knew he had gone irretrievably. The human body is not just something which moves and breathes, it has a vital spark, a personality, a spirit, and when that is gone you are left with just an uninhabited shell, even if breathing and other signs of life are present for a few more minutes. His spirit had left his body and moved on, and that George continues to exist in spirit form was proven to me many times in the next days, weeks, months, and indeed years afterwards.

Before finishing this chapter, I should mention some other things that happened during this last week. He told me to write down his instructions that, using hair gel, I should comb his hair into a fantastic Dali-esque style rocker’s quiff. When I asked when I was to do this he said whenever I felt like it, but I knew he meant after he died. Of course, it was impossible for me to do this. His hair was not long enough, and I have trouble trying to form my own hair into even a modest quiff. I think he said that to give me something to distract me and occupy my mind after he died. It was also a sort of tribute to me who liked that era of pop music and had a modest quiff which he often teased me about. He’d encouraged me to have a more modern style several times, but I always reverted to the rocker’s quiff I felt most comfortable with. So at the end it was as if he was trying to say he really liked it too.

The last thing he ever gave me, some pieces of paper, was one night that last week when we were lying in bed in our bedroom, before he moved into the living room. He looked at me and saw I was crying quietly to myself, and said gently:

‘Your eyes are watering’, and he took two paper towels from his pajama pocket and gave them to me to dry my eyes. I recognized them as coming from the bathroom of the hotel where we were staying in Jersey, so as I took them from him and tried to cheer myself up I joked:

‘These are from the Jersey hotel. You little shoosher’ (meaning he had nicked them) and he smiled at me.

That gesture, offering me something to dry my eyes, moved me very deeply, and I have kept those two paper towels in an envelope along with that other piece of paper on which he wrote his phone number that first time we met 21 years before.

16. EPILOG

 This chapter is to tie up loose ends, review the whole 21 year period George and I spent together and to include some incidents, character traits and so on not mentioned elsewhere.

The world in 1970 when George and I met was a very different place to the one he left in 1991. I was a die-hard Stalinist member of the Communist Party when I met him, and he had been involved in some revolutionary group which used hypnosis and left him paranoid about anything vaguely leftwing. Not only did we both change over the next 21 years, but so did the world.

George lived to see the seemingly impossible happen: the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and this symbolized the fall of Soviet-style Socialism in Eastern Europe and beyond. George and I visited this post-Socialist world on our last foreign holiday together six months before he died, when we saw Budapest and Prague newly liberated from the one-Party dictatorship.

In the summer of 1991 the Yugoslav civil war broke out, so George lived to see the beginning of that terrible, senseless conflict which saw the destruction of a country we loved. We had visited it together twice, and I a third time with my mother. We loved not only the beautiful scenery, but the people and their political system, which seemed to be the best of both the Socialist and capitalist worlds. I still feel the Yugoslav model is the future of Socialism in the 21st century. The one thing they failed to do, however, was to transfer the pluralistic competitive nature of market socialism from the economic to the political arena: opposition parties and free elections never existed there.

We now see why it would never have worked in that strange, artificial federation which has since been riven by bitter nationalism, but at least if they’d had a democratic political system the break-up of the Yugoslav Federation might have been far less violent. They may even have come together again as part of the EU.

George and I grew very close politically over the years. We were both very much against the European Common Market and voted against entry in the referendum, but in later years we were all for it. George lived to see countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Croatia demanding independence, and had little time or patience for these aspirations, being a Scotsman who felt London where he lived most of his life was at least as much his home as Glasgow. He was no Scottish Nationalist, but we both wanted a British republic as part of a federal Europe.

I was once all in favor of independence for Scotland, Wales, etc., but I too came to the conclusion that nationalism was a negative force, and that the future lay in the voluntary coming together of nation states into bigger federations rather than splitting up into smaller units. So George and I over the years became European federalists, strongly believing in a single currency, a strong European Parliament and Court with jurisdiction over national parliaments and courts. We actually looked forward to being governed from Strasbourg  if the European Parliament could be made truly democratic and given ultimate power over the European Commission, which also needed to be made democratic.

We envisaged a federal Europe from the Urals to the Atlantic, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, and saw this as a desirable thing. We were experienced travelers and knew that nanny-state Britain and her archaic laws and practices needed to be given a good shake and dragged into the modern world. Everything from public transport to laws on pornography and sexual freedom were better in most other European countries than in Britain, and we were impatient for these far more liberal laws and sensible policies to be implemented in Britain by decree of a European Parliament.

Homosexuals were then still a persecuted minority facing great discrimination in the UK, so a federal Europe could only bring about liberation for us. When we saw fares on public transport raised to astronomical levels whilst the service got worse and the industry was starved of investment from public subsidy, and spent many Christmases marooned in isolation because public transport stopped in UK, then went abroad and enjoyed cheap, reliable public transport which runs 365 days a year, including Christmas, is it any wonder we said: ‘Roll on a federal Europe which would make Britain fall in line’?

Much more important than the liberation of gays and better public transport, a federal Europe would be a huge step towards world peace, uniting nations which had fought two world wars in the 20th century. Our philosophy was that we are all people first and foremost, and nationality is of much less importance. We all need each other economically. We felt that the nations of Europe should join together in a democratic federation which would make war in Europe impossible in the future. I think we both hoped this trend towards democratic super-federations would occur elsewhere in the world too so war could eventually be eliminated, just as the establishment of the United Kingdom ended forever the tribal wars between the various kings and rulers who existed before.

George also lived to see the beginning of the break-up of the Soviet Union. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia had already broken away, and George used to say how ridiculous it was to imagine they could survive on their own without support from the old Soviet Union, on whom they depended for much of their infrastructure and trade. No-one could survive on their own in this day and age, so if the Soviet Union broke up something would need to take its place – perhaps the European Union in the case of the non-Asian former Soviet republics.
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In August 1991 came the hardline coup in Moscow against Gorbachev, and George lived to see this coup crushed and Gorbachev return briefly to power. He never trusted Boris Yeltsin, and accurately foresaw he would become dictatorial and a disastrous leader. So when George died at the end of September 1991 the Soviet Union was well on the way to collapsing, which it did before the end of the year.

I remember a political discussion, which became a quite heated argument, early on in our relationship. We were visiting Andre and his partner Norman, who could be very argumentative. We were discussing nuclear weapons, and I was outnumbered three to one, being the only person in the room in favor of unilateral nuclear disarmament by Britain. I fought my corner vigorously and confidently against the odds, but during our 21 years together George’s views changed dramatically. This seemed to happen after he started working at Amnesty International and came into contact with so many intelligent, left-of-center people who were at the same time fighting for human rights and against the kind of abuse which occurred under so-called Communism. There were many unilateralists working at AI.

Over the years George and I went on many CND demonstrations together, and we even both got arrested at the Upper Heyford USAF base on one occasion, and went to court together. During the Malvinas/Falklands conflict George and I went to a City of London church where Defence Secretary John Nott was speaking. We had protest banners concealed beneath our coats, and organized our own anti-war demonstration inside the church. I am so proud and happy that George and I fought together for peace in this way.

George became very concerned about the environment, particularly nuclear pollution. I was once in favor of nuclear power for peaceful purposes, but came round to the view that it should be scrapped. Nuclear fission has no future whatsoever because it is dangerous and produces so much nuclear waste which can never be disposed of safely. (Though nuclear fusion may well be a much safer and clean source of energy, with no dangerous radioactive waste). George was a more avid environmentalist than I was, and was totally against the space exploration program which he described cynically as ‘pigs in space’ after The Muppet Show skit.

I could never agree with him about this as the space program had already brought so many benefits with communications satellites, etc., and to me space was the next frontier. I strongly believe in UFOs and that once we reach out into space and contact other civilizations the world will become a much smaller place and will be forced to unite and forget its petty wars. Any civilization which has advanced enough to travel to other inhabited planets must have eliminated war, or they could never have survived. Our precarious nuclear age was evidence of that. We could use those rockets to explore space or destroy each other, but ultimately not both. I was of course against ‘Star Wars’ and the increasingly militaristic nature of the space programs of both super powers, but I hoped advanced civilizations from other worlds would bring us to order before we blew ourselves up. UFOs have been a constant presence in our skies since the first atomic bomb tests, as though they are monitoring us.

George supported the work of Greenpeace, and we both faithfully recycled as much of our rubbish as we could even though it then involved carrying bags of newspapers, cans and bottles on a bus to the nearest recycling center. I kept the practice up after his death, but now they have introduced collections from the door of the apartment block which makes it a lot easier.
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George was a keen supporter of the Palestinian cause, and was a subscriber to Medical Aid for Palestinians. We had no time at all for Israel and both felt it was a big mistake to establish the state of Israel on the soil of Palestine.

Any state based on race or religion is undemocratic and wrong. An Islamic or Christian state  is most definitely also discriminatory; all states should be secular and should not favor one race or one religion. However, Israel is now a fact of life and we have to live with it.

The important thing, both George and I felt, was for the Palestinians to be given a country of their own as they were stateless and still don’t have an international recognized independent country.

George did a lot of voluntary work and supported causes for helping the deprived and starving in the Third World. He would come to the aid of anyone being abused by authority (as in the case of the black woman being intimidated by police at St Thomas’s Hospital Casualty department about a month before he died). On one occasion he came home with a black eye after a visit to the off-license. I eventually gleaned he had been punched by a black guy for verbally defending the Asian woman behind the counter. The black guy was apparently being abusive and aggressive towards her, and George couldn’t stay silent and watch her suffer.

He was vigorously on the side of ethnic minorities as victims of constant police harassment, corruption, prejudice, violence and frame-ups and watched nearly all TV documentaries on such subjects. He had no time for the police at all, and neither did I, despite my grandfather and two uncles being policemen.

As gay men both George and I had been victims of police malpractice ourselves. In my case I was threatened with violence by officers in a police station after being arrested for an offense in a public convenience, and in George’s case he and another man were arrested in a public convenience for no reason at all. When George protested he hadn’t done anything the policeman accompanying him in the police car said: ‘No, but you would have done if we hadn’t come in’. They then fabricated the verbal evidence to convict for this ‘crime’ which on their own admission never happened and according to George never would have. On another occasion they accused George and Rose of being in a public convenience in order to have sex together, a suggestion which was absolutely ludicrous – they had been platonic friends for years and had in any case plenty of opportunity to be alone together without going to a public toilet.
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Moving on to more light-hearted matters. George and I had our own fantasy world, and we told each other humorous stories based on an array of eccentric characters, mostly based on real people we had known in the past. We put many of them into a series of scripts we wrote for TV sit-coms which were never accepted, but in at least one case the idea was used without acknowledgment or payment, and with an inferior script.

George’s characters were based on people he had known when doing skippers (sleeping rough) and on the game in Glasgow, London and Paris. My characters were mainly based on childhood neighbors and my Greek-Cypriot relations, with a few stereotypes thrown in, like the upper-class Lady Snobbo and her aristocratic family. (Lady Snobbo went up in the world from her original incarnation as Mrs Posh O’Bean, taken from my mother’s description of anyone with a middle or upper class accent as a ‘posh old bean’).

I used to tell my brother stories based around these characters, imitating all the voices, when I was still a teenager or even younger. I also amused kids at school with an imitation of our headmistress at Junior school, Miss Parish. I later related stories featuring my characters to George, and committed some to audio and video tape. At parties in our various flats George and I dragged up and Lady Snobbo and the brass (prostitute) was a favorite sketch which we varied. We called ourselves ‘The Slagqueens’ but only made it on to home video and our own parties, we never actually tried our act out in a pub. I did, however, introduce the Lady Snobbo character to an AI Christmas pantomime and it went down very well. I have the ability to produce an amazing falsetto, upper-crust woman’s accent which sounds nothing like my own voice. I once rang the answering machine of a place I worked at night time, and the man I worked with didn’t recognize my voice. I had to stifle the giggles when he told me some mad duchess had left a message on the machine!

Occasionally we did a Joe Orton/Kenneth Halliwell type joke and rang people in the telephone directory, with me putting on my aristocratic woman’s voice. Usually it was to protest at something, but always for a laugh as well. I remember ringing someone important, at St James’s Palace I believe, when Fergie became Duchess of York and saying in my indignant posh voice that it would have been more appropriate to call her the Duchess of Clapham Junction since this was the area she used to locate.

This posh accent was also used to ring one of George’s former employers and play a hoax on her, with George egging me on and trying not to laugh till I’d put the receiver down. Another of my favorite accents was the Greek-Cypriot granny who spoke in very broken English, and I rang a few people using this weird accent whilst George tried to stifle fits of laughter. Of course I now miss this fun we had together, with our imaginary characters and funny voices. When George crossed over, a whole world collapsed, the world of ‘Snoozy and Porky’, our nicknames for each other. A large part of me died with George.

Another of my characters, and a favorite of George’s, was Noreen, based on the first West Indian neighbor of my grandmother’s back in the late 1950s/early 1960s. She came from Barbados and was known to us simply as Mrs Camp.

Many of my own characters were foreigners, whilst most of George’s were down and outs, prostitutes or bitches in drag with ridiculous names like Cross-Eyed Clara, Red Riding Hood and Mad Myra. This reflected our backgrounds – I was used to being surrounded by foreigners, whilst he was more used to what was then referred to as the street life.Â

Many of our characters were depicted in rather badly drawn cartoons I drew to amuse myself, George and sometimes my mother.  A lot would be regarded as politically incorrect nowadays since they depicted various stereotypes, some ethnic and some British, but it was always the upper-crust British aristocracy who were the butt of all the jokes and the ethnic minorities and working-class who were the heroes.

Noreen, the woman from Barbados, had a deep, lazy voice and was always snoozing. I had imagined her as quite thin, like the original Mrs Camp, but George insisted she was of very ample proportions. Dear Noreen, how we both loved her and all the other characters in our private little fantasy world.

We also had our own private language, mentioned earlier, quite separate from the polari, or gay slang. Most of the words originated from George.  ‘Cozy’ or ‘picturesque’ became ‘shnorky’ and a cute, sensitive young guy would be referred to as a ‘little snoozler’, for instance. There were also various phrases and nicknames he used, but this little private world or ours came cruelly crashing down one Sunday in September 1991. On that day I lost not only George but all these characters and familiar but quaint expressions, our shared ideologies and interests all disappeared overnight and left me stranded in a strange, frightening world where I was all alone. Only our little cat, Tibby, saved me from going mad or worse when I was otherwise alone in our little flat, all that was left of our little private world.
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Memories remain like photos in an album – George asleep on the couch in his gray jersey, and whilst half asleep he’d take his spectacles off and put them on the back of the sofa as he turned over and sank deeper into his snooze. Then he’d suddenly stagger up in the early hours, and totter to bed with bleary eyes like a little child – a sight so endearing I feel in love with him all over again every time I saw it. Another sight I loved was when he was laying on the same sofa watching TV with his glasses all crooked on his nose. For some reason the old spectacles he wore in the house always sat crooked on his face, and this often prompted a peck on the forehead from me for looking so sweet.

He hated it if I called him ‘Georgie’ or ‘darling’, but we had other nicknames and expressions we used for each other.  He usually called me ‘Porky’ and I called him ‘Snoozy’, or even more informally, ‘pet’.Â

George disliked big meals, and always told me that a lot of food on his plate or in our cat’s dish would put them both off their meals, as they were small eaters. George preferred lots of little snacks, often late at night. He sometimes said he’d be quite happy with a few pills instead of all the bother of shopping, cooking, eating and washing up. My mother and I were big eaters who enjoyed our food.

I had told George about my childhood and how we never had a TV set till my dad brought us a second-hand one from his restaurant in the late 1950s/early 1960s. George’s family by all accounts was poorer than ours and living in quite squalid conditions in a Glasgow tenement block, but they had a TV since the early 1950s and the days of ‘The Grove Family’ which they watched avidly. George made up this charming and far from flattering song about my family set to the theme tune from the original ‘Addams Family’ TV series:

 

‘The Papard Family

They’re stinky and they’re smelly

They can’t afford a telly

They only feed their belly

The Papard family’

I hope the first line was only for poetic effect. At any rate I thought it was brilliant and loved it.

This was one George, the happy George I knew and loved. There were many other facets of his character. On ‘the sweeties’ or amphetamines he was distant and cold, but very efficient and a profuse writer, sitting up two nights in succession typing away. The only warning I would get of the arrival of this stranger into our house would be when I asked George what he would like for his meal that night and he would say: ‘I’m not eating today’. This meant he was going to take amphetamines which took away his appetite for food, gave him an appetite for sex, kept him awake for two nights and gave him the energy to do all the creative things (like writing, applying for jobs, working on his collage, making up audio tapes for friends and relations) he had no enthusiasm for the rest of the week.

Once he was in this state I had lost him for a couple of days, and I went my own way. I’d often make myself scarce and go cruising up Hampstead Heath. Sometimes George had one of his regular friends round who shared his interest in bondage and S&M, sometimes I’d run into him on the Heath in the early hours, for he never got there till then.

Even years later whenever I went up the Heath (not so often as there were so many other places to go later) I half expected to run into George down the leather end by the big dip near the Leg of Mutton pond.

If he met anyone up there he’d either go back with them, bring them back or just swop phone numbers. He couldn’t do much up the Heath itself evidently. It was the people he gave our phone number to which caused us to invest in a telephone answering machine.

If George had taken his ‘sweeties’ on the Friday and stayed up the next two nights, by the Sunday he was on the big come-down and starting to get very depressed. He’d then sleep for much of the following week, just waking up in the late afternoon and part of the evening. He dreaded someone he’d met the weekend ringing him up as he just couldn’t handle it. He’d let the phone ring unanswered rather than risk talking to someone he’d cruised when he was on the ‘sweeties’. This problem got worse towards the end of his life, and he just got palpitations and panicked if sex reared its ugly head when he was not high on amphetamines. So we left the answering machine on all the time. George would only answer if he recognized the voice leaving a message as a platonic friend or a relation, whereupon he would pick up the phone. Our friends and relatives eventually got used to the fact they could never get us on the phone unless they started to leave a message on the machine.

I have mentioned George wasn’t a big eater or particularly fond of food, but one day he actually lost his temper when I served up some chump ends. He sawed and sawed at the tough, awkwardly shaped lamb chops with their big bits of bone, and suddenly jumped up and hit the plate with his hand sending chops, potatoes, vegetables and gravy flying over me, the table and the carpet, saying something like: ‘I can’t eat this muck’. It was the only time he ever did this, and it became a bit of a standing joke, the day he ‘threw his dinner at me’. The chops were very difficult to eat and he just lost his patience. He was a very fussy eater and quickly tired of things. I still laugh at the day he ‘threw his dinner over me’.

He liked so few foods that when I found something he liked I tended to overdo it and buy it too often, so he would then quickly tire of it and say: ‘Never buy that again, you’ve overdone it once more, Porky’, which meant I had to strike that item off the menu for at least six months.

When we both neared the age of 40 (he reached that dreaded figure two years before me) we started putting on a little weight around our waists. In actual fact it soon stabilized, and I ended up about a stone heavier than I had been previously. George may have put on a little more weight, but neither of us grew very fat.

We panicked, however, and George got books on how to flatten your stomach and looked into all sorts of cranky diets. One was a high protein one which consisted of cutting out all vegetables. George loved this as he hated most green vegetables and loved meat, and we were delighted to find we lost many pounds in one week. We were disappointed to discover it all came back on the minute we came off the diet and started eating vegetables again.

At one time George had an exercise cycle machine, but I don’t honestly remember him using it much. Eventually he sold it and a nice young man came round to collect it after seeing the advert. Another contraption George got was an ultra-violet lamp with which he used to top-up his suntans after we’d come back from various holidays.

One day he suggested we both go jogging in Battersea Park. He had a track suit but I didn’t. I felt self-conscious jogging round in my jeans and ordinary clothes, and made some remark about this. George was furious, saying he’d hoped it would be something we could to together but I had ruined it. I did feel it was a bit silly, but if I’d bought a second-hand tracksuit from Oxfam I’d have felt more comfortable. Sadly, it was the one and only time we tried jogging together.

We had many happy times though, such as when we were buying ornaments and things for our flat. Nearly always it was George who spotted these things.

After George’s death, when someone who had briefly known George visited our flat he remarked that ‘George had taste, didn’t he?’ He certainly did, which is why I value so much the little touches he gave to our flat, and why I could never drastically change anything. It is part of our little world which I can still keep alive.

Before George came along I had become all bitter and twisted. As someone once told me shortly before I met George: ‘You’ll meet someone and you’ll change’. I did, we both changed for the better. Those 21 years with George were the sunny days of my life. Before it was all dark, and it seemed the sun went behind a dark gray cloud when he died, though later other people came along to bring a bit of the brightness back into my life. At least now I have memories and traces of the sunshine which lit up my life, and some of its warmth still remains. For instance in the collages which brighten two rooms of our flat.

I also have (or had) all the friends George introduced me to, and the benefit of all he taught me and helped me to appreciate. Above all I have progressed spiritually thanks to George, and I know that once someone really loved me and I returned that love. It is a love far too strong to be extinguished by death, and he still reaches out and touches me from time to time. Some of the wonderful things that have happened since he died are related below.

After he passed over some friends gave me copies of old letters from George, one written in November 1989 and one in January 1991. Both had passages about what would happen if either of us died. George wrote that he felt he would be able to cope better than I would, then seemed to contradict this by saying in one letter he could not contemplate life without me and in the second letter he actually says he would take an overdose once he had sorted out all the affairs after my funeral. Very perceptively he wrote about the difficulty of carrying on surrounded by photos, things we had bought and shared together, and memories to remind the one who was left of the one who had died.

Just before he died, it seemed as if George was allowed to tie up some loose ends. A few weeks before he died he noticed that a newsagents shop belonging to the father of a friend of ours was empty. He wrote to the friend, and as a result this person contacted his father in an old people’s home in Southport. Father and son had not kept in close contact, but the last letter George wrote to Stan put him in touch with his father again.

 A last letter from George to another friend gave some reprimands and good advice about his relationship with his partner. The last letter he wrote to his sister, containing what became his own obituary and epitaph, is described in a previous chapter. Again, it was giving reprimands and advice to those he loved and cared for. I was myself called upon to show my loyalty to George on three separate occasions in the summer of 1991, and passed the test each time. I put him before my mother over the trip to Jersey, I defended him to his sister during their final argument, and I came out twice to two rock’n’roll acquaintances I’d known for about 20 years, telling one of them my partner was a he not a she.  This was the first time I was ‘out’ on the 1950s rock’n’roll scene.

Just a month before he died Channel 4 screened the ‘Out’ episode which contained a small clip of George’s collage and us sitting on the sofa together – it was indeed our obituary as he predicted, and the unedited video including our screen kiss has become a moving souvenir of our relationship. Then we were given those last two weeks to say ‘goodbye’ to each other – the last holiday in Jersey where he made a supreme effort for my sake, and the week together at home when I did my best to fulfil his last wishes. It was as if some plan had all been worked out beforehand, and the date he died, September 29th, had connexions with 3 people connected to one or both of us.

The most important lesson my relationship with George taught me is the power of love. Before we met he was a cynic who didn’t believe love was possible for him in a gay relationship, and he was paranoid about anything to do with Communism or vaguely leftwing. I was a hardline atheistic Communist who slavishly put the Party before almost everything else and who thought Stalin (long before denounced by Krushchov and disowned by most of the Communist world) was the great red sun of the glorious dawn of Communism personified, a father figure imposing a ruthless discipline in order to bring about Utopia. During our 21 years together we both changed and drew very close.

George lost his cynicism about homosexual love and his paranoia about leftwing causes, and I rejected Soviet-style Communism (but not a more democratic Socialism) and gradually came to share George’s belief in Spiritualism and some sort of reincarnation. We both helped each other along the road to truth, to discover the meaning of life and our purpose here. In the classroom of life, George and I taught each other. Through our love for one another we both progressed spiritually and loosened forever some of the negative chains which were holding us back. Love truly does conquer all.

Of one thing I am sure: when my life here is over and I cross over to the Spiritual plane my little Snoozy will be waiting for me. He’ll stand there, arms outstretched, give me that wonderful smile and say one word: ‘Porky!’ Then, at last, the nightmare will be over and I’ll be home again.

17. AFTER DEATH COMMUNICATIONS WITH GEORGE

George has kept in contact with me throughout the years since his passing, and in the early days he also made his presence known to many of our friends. Below are described just a few of the most remarkable incidents. They were more frequent in the early days after his passing, and similarly my communications to him have become less frequent.  I started writing posthumous letters to him soon after he died, like a sort of diary of what I and his friends had been up to. These were written several times a week soon after he died, but now usually only about three times a year, on anniversaries. As you will see, questions asked of George in these letters have been answered the very next day.

The communications took many forms, started within days of his passing and continue right up to the present day. This is just a small sample of what has happened since he passed over.

Apparitions and Physical Phenomena

During a holiday to Hawaii our friend Eric was alone in his hotel room in Waikiki when he saw a reflection in the TV screen, and turned around to see George standing there looking younger than he remembered him (and Eric had not seen George for about 9 years before his death).Â

The apparition was only momentary and George did not speak, but the vision was real enough for Eric to run straight to his friend’s room and tell her what he had just seen. She had to tell him to calm down. George and I had of course stayed in Waikiki in the early 1980s.Â

One month after George died Eric had actually met him during a Spiritualist development circle he belonged to. During meditation Eric felt he left his body and found himself in a field of flowers. There was a bandstand by a stream, and here he met George. They embraced and George told him he was glad Eric had gotten in touch with me. He also told Eric that he went over very quickly (he was ill for only two weeks and went quite suddenly in the end). George said he could not stay long with Eric, but they left the bandstand, which also seemed to be a sort of temple, and walked among the flowers and then George moved on.Â

When telling two other friends of ours of the importance of making Wills, something George had encouraged them to do, Frank later told me that he could see ‘George’s expression, eyes and face in your face ’.  This is a well-known psychic phenomenom, when the features of the deceased appear over the features of the medium or another living person.

A year after those dreadful last two weeks of George’s life my mother put her book down in bed to turn off the light and go to sleep, and momentarily saw George’s happy smiling face looking so fit and well.

Rose in Hastings was walking through an alleyway near where he lived on the way home from work. He was not thinking of George at the time, but suddenly had a very strong feeling George was walking with him, just behind him. So strong was this impression Rose turned around and called out aloud: ‘George’. There was no-one to be seen, but Rose knew it had been George and leant against the wall to recover from the shock.  This incident was related to me when Rose rang me just as I was watching a video of a gay character standing by the coffin of his dead lover, and remembering when I stood by George’s coffin.

One way or another, George was making his presence known to all of us, to reassure us he was all right and still near us.

A few days after this Rose was staying with me for the weekend and Andre came over to lunch. He told me later he felt George’s presence as soon as he entered the flat. In fact he said he was standing in the middle of the living-room near no-one when he felt George tug the back of his coat. Are all my friends nuts, or was this was yet another friend George had made his presence known to? Andre is a very down-to-Earth, no-nonsense sort of person not prone to flights of fancy.

One day in our living room out of the corner of my eye I saw something come in the door and move behind the chair in front of George’s nearly finished quilt panel on the wall, as though he had come back to admire it.

One Sunday Rose was up from Hastings for the weekend. Whilst washing up in the kitchen he heard George’s voice behind him and felt someone grab hold of his arm saying: ‘Rose, Rose. What are you doing?’ Rose replied automatically: ‘Washing up’ as he turned round  just in time to catch a glimpse of someone behind him by the radio and the work-surface, before realizing there was no-one there. I was not in the flat at the time, Rose was alone with our cat.

The fact that Rose rarely washes up without prompting would perhaps explain the surprise George might have expressed at seeing him voluntarily doing such a chore.

Telepathic messages

Two weeks after he died I started writing a regular correspondence with George, feeling sure he could read it. I wrote about things that had happened to me and the way I was feeling, and put a P.S. asking him to help me find some negatives of photos of George and myself which people wanted copies of, as I could not find them in the usual place among our other negatives. The next day a message just came into my head telling me to look at the top of the larder in the kitchen. The message was quite clear, yet seemed ridiculous: the negatives I was looking for would be there, on the top shelf. As far as I knew there were no negatives in that larder at all, but when I looked there was an envelope containing some negatives, and the ones I was searching for were about the first ones I looked at. George had read my letter and answered it the very next day.

Marlene, a friend of ours who was a bit psychic, told me when I saw her in November that some time after learning of George’s death she heard his voice saying ‘give Tony my love’.

About the middle of April 1992 the most wonderful thing happened: George gave me a present. On the last day out we spent together on a sandy beach in Jersey he had been very concerned about the fine sand getting into my cassette player. He told me to make sure I got a cover for it when I came back to Jersey with Mum.

My mother and I were due to go to Jersey in May, and as the month approached I searched the shops and markets in vain for a cassette player cover. One day in April I was in the kitchen when suddenly a voice in my head told me that I would find what I was looking for in a cupboard where we kept presents we bought/accumulated throughout the year for Christmas and birthdays. George was the one usually responsible for buying and putting things in that cupboard, so I had little idea what was in there, but a cassette player cover seemed most unlikely.

 I told myself: ‘Don’t be silly, there’s no cassette player cover in there.’ However I opened the cupboard and found a canvas cover which just fitted my cassette player. It even had a zip-up pouch for batteries, and a string to wear it around my neck (very useful on coach and train journeys), and also a way of attaching it to a belt.

It was actually supposed to be a case for money and valuables. Evidently we had bought or been given it some time before but it never seemed very practical for that purpose so George must have put it in that cupboard. Certainly I didn’t remember anything about it.

It seemed George had seen me try in vain to buy a cover, and managed to find the present he would have wanted to give me before he left. I think it is highly significant that the phrase which came into my head was that I would find ‘what you are looking for’ not that I would find a specifically designed ‘cassette player cover’ in the cupboard.

At a birthday party for Lena I was joking with him and Rose, and as a bit of high camp made up a funny story, it just came into my head. To my amazement Rose confirmed it had actually happened. It was one of the occasions Rose had caused George to be thrown out of his lodgings, but not the occasion when he lived in Lisle Street which George had told me about. He had never related to me the details of this other incident, and Rose had completely forgotten about it till I ‘made it up’ as I thought. It was as if George were showing his presence at Lena’s 60th birthday party. Just before this incident I had drunk a toast to George, and I’d also included his name on my birthday card to Lena.

In Spring 1999 I was sitting by the tree planted in George’s memory and a message came into my head which, for some reason, I thought was connected with his old friend Andre. The two seemingly nonsensical phrases were: ‘I’m watching the hutch’ and ‘I know about Danielle’. I mentioned the name Danielle to Andre, but it didn’t seem to ring any bells with him, apart from a song by Elton John.

Some days later I was with Stan, a married man who was very close to me emotionally. His wife had just given birth to their baby by Cesarian section. He happened to mention the baby’s name, Danielle. He had told me the name once before but I’d forgotten about it. Suddenly George’s message as I sat near his tree became crystal clear. Nothing to do with Andre, it was about my lover Stan and his baby.

Nearly a year before George had sent me another message as I sat near his tree predicting that Stan and I would be together as life-partners some day, so this new message tied in. I believe what he was actually trying to say was: ‘I was watching the hatch. I know about Danielle.’

This would be very typical of George, to use a disrespectful, some might say cynical and offensive, term like ‘hatch’ to describe a woman giving birth by Cesarian section. There could be no doubt in my mind, George was saying have faith in what I told you before about you and Stan in the future, I know about the birth of baby Danielle, it doesn’t change my prediction. How exactly things would work out he did not reveal, and only time will tell.

The messages via the radio, records and other media

One of George’s most remarkable messages came on December 10th, just over two months after his passing.  In my letter to him the night before I had asked him if I should keep writing to him in this way or if it was holding us both back when we should be moving on.

I was not at all familiar with George’s record collection, but the next day I had an urge to take a record from George’s collection at random and I played some tracks without looking at the sleeve to see who was singing, and without looking at the label either.  When I placed the stylus randomly on the record Dorothy Squires’ voice immediately answered the question in my letter the night before:

Should I stop writing posthumous letters to him?

His reply came loud and clear through the speakers:

 ‘Love letters straight from your heart keep us so near while apart’.

This was absolutely remarkable as I had not even looked at the sleeve of the record, so had no idea what it was, who was singing or what tracks were on it till I heard the tune and those wonderful words.

This marvelous message again confirmed that he reads my letters and also that he feels they keep us close and that I should continue writing them. It was the most comforting message I’d had from him and helped me tremendously, knowing we could communicate in this way.

In two separate films, one on TV and another in a cinema,  characters were told they had to write the story of their past before moving on, which is what I have attempted to do in this book. Whether published or not, it has been therapeutic for me.

Never one to appreciate opera, I nevertheless accompanied our friends Dirk and Paul to see ‘La Boheme’, an aria of which we had watched Pavarotti singing the night before George died. In the ENO production I saw many parallels between Mimi’s death and George’s. The words came into my head: ‘I had to f*****g die to get you to appreciate opera.’

It was true, I wept through most of the final Act because of all the coincidences with George’s death. Both Mimi and George said they were better when they were not, both refused to drink their medicine when told to, both passed before their lovers realized it, both reminisced with their lovers about their good times together, both turned left and sat on their bed just before they died, and as the dying Mimi and her lover clasped each other the aria was playing which we had heard the night before he died. It was indeed like a replay of the ‘Performance of My Life’ which he had been singing about in the days before he passed over.Â

The Dreams

One  night  I dreamt George had survived his illness (this was to be a recurring theme), and the previous night I had dreamed of George and remembered it clearly for the first time.  I also saw Eric around this time, and he too had dreamt of George. He appeared to be living in a Victorian house and told Eric he was not dead but had to get away from everything (virtually the same message I received mentally in my hallway by his picture one day: ‘I had to get away from you all’).

All these things might mean little to other people, but to me they were a great comfort. The message was coming through loud and clear that George’s spirit was not dead, he was still very much around, but had to get away from the Earth plane and the rut he was in.

One morning, soon after Rose encountered George’s spirit in the alleyway, I awoke from a vivid dream about George. It was a ‘levitation’ or ‘flying dream’. I was going past a place where holiday camp guests were having a winter reunion party, which seemed to be promoting next summer’s holidays. Instead of red coats the staff were wearing scout-type uniforms and were known as ‘marshals’ and ‘marshalesses’. Next to this holiday camp seemed to be a beach with white sand.
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I then seemed to be flying along a few feet from the ground. By flapping down with one or two hands I could gradually levitate to a greater height. I have had similar such dreams many times before, but on this occasion I seemed to be going higher and faster than usual. I thought how easy it was, and wondered why I couldn’t always fly like this.

I seemed to be flying over a beach recently created by demolishing old terraced, tenement-style buildings three or four stories high which had once stood there. As I flew over this beach parallel to the promenade, I became aware of someone, who seemed to be a stranger, walking along beneath me to my left on this promenade, talking to me. No matter how fast I flew they kept pace alongside. I remember seeing old-fashioned lamp-posts beneath me along the promenade. They were double lamps with two old-fashioned bulbs on each post.

I approached a dilapidated pier or bridge across the ocean which seemed to stretch endlessly seaward . It was all boarded up with blue wood or metal sheeting, and I knew I would have to swerve off the beach over the promenade to get round this obstacle, or else go over it. I decided to swerve around it as I was not sure if I could get enough height to go over.

As I flew past the boarded-up entrance to the pier or bridge, I tried to fly higher and enter in at a sort of hole or gap in the boarding. Something was holding me down, preventing me getting high enough. It seemed that my companion on the promenade was holding on to my hand and saying:

‘You’re not ready to go that high yet’.

Nevertheless I broke away and next thing I was flying past a window of a little flat. George was in there wearing his red pullover, looking happy and well, and younger than when he died, like he used to be years ago. He was looking at me and smiling, and seemed very relaxed. I reached out towards him, first with one arm and then with two, crying out my pet name for him: ‘Snoozy, Snoozy!’

He smiled gently and said to me: ‘Not yet’, and he made a gesture by laying his head to one side on his clasped hands as if to say: ‘You’re asleep’.

As I was drawn away by something pulling me back I seemed to float around a corner and I could see George through another window of his celestial flat, now wearing his old black framed spectacles he used for watching TV. He was no longer looking at me but was distracted by some sort of work. Shortly after floating further away I woke up and started crying with emotion. The dream was so real I knew I had actually met George.

I had many dreams featuring George before, and in all of them the message was that he did not really die. However, this was the first dream of him I had in association with a ‘levitation’ or ‘flying dream’. I have read that such dreams occur when the sleeping person is ‘astral traveling’. When the ‘astral body’ breaks free of the physical during sleep and floats above it, or even flies great distances, this gives rise to a sensation of flying or levitating in the dreams of the sleeper.

The experience I had was packed full of symbolism. I interpret it not so much as a visit to a real place, but as an astral visit to a little symbolic ‘play’ or piece of theater George had staged for me. I would like to get an expert interpretation, but this was how I saw it:

The holiday camp seemed to represent souls preparing to reincarnate again on Earth, an environment away from their natural home where they would spend a relatively short time.

The beach seemed to be symbolic of the beautiful boundary/gateway to the next world. The pier-like structure was actually more like a bridge from this world to the next, stretching out endlessly over the sea.

The fact that George seemed to be living in a flat in or around the pier/bridge entrance seems to indicate he is waiting for me somewhere.Â

George’s relaxed manner and gentle smile gave such a feeling of reassurance, as though he was always near me. He looked in the best of health and several years younger than when he died, and the ‘sleeping’ gesture accompanied by the phrase ‘not yet’ is a clear indication to me that he was saying this time I was only sleeping, and it was not yet time for me to join him. The second sighting of him wearing glasses and engrossed in something indicated he has some sort of work to do, and that we must both get on with whatever we have to do till we can be together again.

After I awoke and wrote down the details of the dream, I looked up and saw George’s photo and the ‘All Is Well’ verse he sent me via a friend just after he died. I always kept these by my bed at the time, and as I read the poem again I  saw it contained the phrases: ‘I have only slipped away into the next room… I am but waiting for you just round the corner. All is well.’

I was astounded to realize that this was all in the dream: I was looking through the window at him in ‘the next room’, then I floated ‘round the corner’ and saw him again, and the whole message seemed to be he was waiting for me and that all was well. Also I had read some time before (and had recently repeated in a letter to a friend) that departed spirits see us in this world as through a window, an invisible barrier they can see and hear through but we cannot. For a few seconds that barrier seemed to become transparent for me as I caught two glimpses of George thru windows.

Of course I knew the ‘All Is Well’ verse well by then so you could say the dream was prompted by the words of the poem. However in that case I would have surely dreamt of me being in one room and George literally in the next, or him waiting around a street corner. Instead I did not realize the significance of what I had seen in my dream till I had written it down and then read the ‘All Is Well’ verse and noticed the strange, cryptic and unexpected way the dream fulfilled the promise in the verse.

Coming soon after the incident when Rose encountered him in an alleyway, it made me think George was busy reminding us all he was still around and was now in good health.

Breaking away from the ‘stranger’ on the promenade in the dream was extremely significant. I realized after I awoke that this ‘stranger’ was none other than my physical self, and that when I tried to float higher and enter the gap in the boarded-up pier/bridge that it was my physical body restraining me. I felt that the stranger was holding my hand trying to pull me back down, but in actual fact it would have been the umbilical-like silver cord which always connects astral travelers to their physical body and is only severed at death which I had felt restraining me. It was this silver cord which prevented me flying even higher or entering the next world, and which finally drew me back into my physical body.

The more I thought about it the more I realized how appropriate were George’s methods of getting in touch with me. Through his records (see relevant category in this chapter) which encouraged me to listen to and appreciate a wider range of music than just 1950s rock’n’roll and Country Music. In life, he had also tried to do this. Then with the above astral-traveling ‘flying’ dream which seemed to be a theatrical play full of symbolism. This was exactly the sort of theater George loved and helped me to appreciate. The fact that this dream seemed to be symbolic rather than realistic reinforces rather than weakens its message, as it is how George could be expected to deliver it.

He appears not only to have written, directed and performed a symbolic scenario for me, but to have helped me immediately understand the symbolism, for I was able to interpret it with little difficulty soon after awakening. However, one piece of symbolism only occurred to me days later.

I had described the dilapidated pier-like structure as being more like a bridge to the next world stretching endlessly seaward. However, it was also remarkably like a tunnel because it was completely closed in. For its whole visible length it seemed to be boxed-in by sheets of blue wood or metal, forming a sort of rectangular tunnel.

When flying by the boarded-up entrance, the gap I spotted appeared black, like entering what would have been the darkness of a tunnel. Such a tunnel is featured early on in most out-of-the-body and near-death experiences as the astral body leaves the Earth plane. This tunnel seems to be the link between two dimensions or parallel universes, between two spiritual planes, between this world and the next. (Quantum physics recognizes these tunnels as wormholes linking parallel universes and distant parts of our own universe.)  Once through this tunnel/wormhole you are in a higher spiritual plane/parallel universe.

I cannot say if I emerged from the other end of that tunnel, all I remember was approaching the entrance one moment and encountering George in his celestial flat the next. Although I have no recollection of traveling through the tunnel, it was certainly there in symbolic form but quite unrecognizable to me for days. It fits in with George’s symbolic scenario, but most decidedly does not fit in with my dreaming up something to fit in with what I had read and heard about the tunnel and astral projection. Like ‘the next room’ and ‘round the corner’ it was an obscure, cryptic message which took time (or prompting) to unravel.

Still later another element of symbolism emerged. I had been puzzled by the significance of the blue color of the boarding, which seemed to be of either wood or metal. I then realized that the rectangular, blue boarded up pier or bridge was very similar to the exterior frontage of the now demolished Biograph cinema where I first met George. Looking at the black-and-white photograph of this cinema in a book I found in the library just after George died, I was able to confirm to myself that it did have a long, rectangular facade at first-floor level made up of a sort of corrugated metal, or possibly wood, which I remember was painted blue. To the extreme right, over the cinema entrance, were three windows. So maybe the windows of George’s flat were also located in this boarding. The rest of the first-floor facade of the cinema, extending over three shop fronts, had no windows and is featureless apart from the name of the cinema in large letters reading ‘Biograph’. This was an early name for a cinema, but add a ‘y’ and it becomes ‘biography’, the subject of this book and how George’s life interacted with mine. So this blue facade was where we first met, and where I met George again in the symbolic dream, after he died.

If the hole in the boarded-up pier/bridge was indeed the dark entrance leading to a fantastic world of light at the far end of the rectangular tunnel, then that is also analogous to this particular cinema the interior of which was completely rectangular with little ornamentation, rather like a long, dark tunnel. At the far end was the illuminated screen with its unreachable fantasy world, just as that bright Other world lies at the end of the astral/wormhole tunnel.

George and I first met in that darkness, looking at that fantasy screen world where a film called ‘The Group’ was showing, and next time I meet him will probably be when traveling through the dark tunnel towards the brilliant light of the spiritual planes. Even the name of that first film we saw together could be significant, for spirits usually reincarnate in Earth as a group, and we all have Soul Groups. Different parts/facets of this Soul Group incarnate apparently. These various parts/facets incarnate in different lives and meet up in various relationships in order to help each other progress and work out their karma. Various aspects of the Soul Group to which George and myself belong must have had many incarnations and will possibly have future ones, our experiences being shared as ‘The Group’.

Everything is a circle, or rather a spiral. We appear to end up back at the beginning, but if we are progressing we find ourselves higher up the spiral each time around.

I sent an account of the above experience to a number of friends, and one of them, Eric, told me that before receiving it some lines of poetry just came into his head, about ‘there is no death’ and being ‘in the next room’. He told me that he had never heard the ‘All Is Well’ poem before this. In actual fact the line ‘there is no death’ came from a poem my mother wrote which Eric certainly never saw or heard. Eric is psychic, so George was definitely getting in touch me and with old friends.

Another night I was again with dreams and he looked well, having put on weight around his face. It seemed he had almost fully recovered from his pneumonia, though when I asked he said he still had slight pain or discomfort on one side. As I looked at him, I saw the love in his eyes like I used to, and I kissed him on the forehead. He told me to stop worrying about him, and that he was all right.

Although clearly dreams, and not true astral projections like the flying dream earlier, I believe George does come near me in these dreams, and that I may actually communicate with him. The message in all the dreams I have had about him since he passed over is that he survived his illness, did not really die and is still near me. In some of these dreams he seems to have just moved away from me for some reason, and I can’t understand why we split up, but of course this question has been answered many times. It was time for both of us to move on; we had achieved what we could in this life together.

One November morning in the early hours I dreamt for the first time in my life of Minneapolis, a place I had never even visited at that time. I saw a large North American city on a big, winding river with a smaller city on the other bank. I forgot all about this dream when I awoke, but it was brought back to me when at work that day I was introduced to an old friend of George’s who worked there when George did. He had kept in touch after they both left, and they used to exchange letters and Christmas cards. I even had a photo of her in one of our albums.

As I was talking to her, I suddenly remembered my dream that morning. Sure enough, she was living in Minneapolis, or to be precise just outside the city. I told her about the dream, and she confirmed Minneapolis was indeed on a river (the Mississippi) with the city of St Paul on the other bank. Since I had no idea she was visiting England before I had the dream, it had to be George giving me a premonition that I would meet one of his friends at work that day. How could I have known that what looked like one city in the dream was actually two separate ones? Until George’s friend told me, I’d never even heard of St Paul, the twin city of Minneapolis.

The messages via mediums

I had a private 15-minute sitting with a medium called Pat Anderson at the Battersea Spiritualist Church. Everything she told me seemed quite accurate, and I got some good advice. I was told a planned holiday out of the country soon was a good idea. (I had wondered if returning to Jersey was wise, but as it turned out it did me good.)  I was told of an anniversary in May (George’s birthday was May 27th).   A baby girl was mentioned (George’s nephew James and Marlene his wife had a stillborn baby boy, but named a baby girl born in October 1991 after George – Marlene Georgina. If it had been a boy they would have called it George).

A man who enjoyed his drink was brought to me, just after talk of the May anniversary and needing to relax and be what I am. I feel it must have been George, who had bouts of heavy drinking in the year or so before he died, especially as this was followed by a reference to Australia associated with happiness. (Our holiday in Australia in 1990 was the highpoint of our travels, and George was happier in Sydney than many other places we had visited over the years. So much so we planned to return in 1992 if we could afford it.)

Then came a message from someone who was a carpenter or good at woodwork, which was undoubtedly George’s father (he used to make very good wooden toys as a hobby). He said do what you are good at, which seems to be writing among other things. Right near the end of the session I was told that I was aware of Spirit, and that it was not my imagination. (So all the little messages really were from George and the Spiritual plane.)

One day Eric rang me to say he had been bothered by a lot of crashing noises and lights in his flat. A friend of his, who is a medium, came to his flat to investigate and asked if he knew a George. She told Eric that George spoke two languages, the other being French. She also said he had a love of Paris. She told Eric George wanted to wipe the slate clean (they had not contacted each other for several years before George’s death due to a misunderstanding) and that it was a pity they had wasted so many years.

According to this medium George was quite weak when he got over to the other side, and was still a bit weak, but was getting help and healing there. She talked about him having a skin complaint on the Earth plane and chest trouble, which she felt was quite unbearable.

George wanted to develop his healing powers, and channel his energy through someone on the Earth plane. She then spoke about Athens and a shoe with something wrong with the heel. Also a photo album with a photo of Eric, George and myself.

The medium used the phrase ‘second drawer’ apparently in reference to class. George said he had not forgotten his working class background and that he came from a poor area of Scotland. He believed in a classless society and did not like snobs. The medium said that George felt he was too kind to people on the Earth plane and people took advantage of him. She seemed to think one day Eric would see George in his flat, and Eric said he felt prepared for that and would be able to cope with it. (See section on Apparitions, Eric saw George but it was not in his flat.)
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The medium said when George passed over he felt his time was up, and he wanted to go. She said he was quite young and it was a short life, but George corrected her and said it was not a short life, and he had done what he wanted.

The medium also spoke of there being bad feeling at his funeral. The crashes in Eric’s flat were apparently George’s desperate attempts to gain Eric’s attention and get him to call in the medium, who, it must be said, is a friend of Eric’s and a neighbor. Eric saw lights whilst the medium was talking and also after she had gone.

Everything the medium said rang very true. George did speak French, having lived in Paris for quite a while. There had been a break in his friendship with Eric for many years before George’s death. He died with pains in his chest which he felt were unbearable, and which even morphine could not ease completely. He was suffering from pneumonia and also palpitations, and it is probable he actually died of heart failure brought on by the pneumonia. The skin complaint mentioned is more difficult to explain. He did complain of an itchy scalp and suffered greatly from mouth ulcers (oral thrush). The medium could have interpreted ‘thrush’ as a skin rash.
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The shoe incident meant nothing to me but a great deal to Eric. Apparently when the three of us had been on holiday in Athens Eric had a shoe with a loose sole or heel and had ripped it off. Neither Eric not I could find an album with a photo of the three of us together, but there were two very similar photos in one of my albums of George and Eric and George and myself standing on exactly the same spot on a bridge in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The medium was correct when she said George did not like snobs and never forgot his working class background, and correctly placed it in Scotland even though George had lost his Glaswegian accent years ago. People certainly did take advantage of his kindness, and did not always repay it.
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George always felt older than his years, and he had packed such a lot into his life, that he really did feel he had done everything he wanted by the time he died. He said this many times before he died, and even wrote it in a letter to his sister.

The bad feelings at the funeral involved his sister Betty, then extended to me and my mother because of the row with George before his death and my not being able to put up 17 relatives as well as George’s other friends in my flat.

 The phone call from Eric describing was a great comfort to me, bringing not only confirmation that George keeps in touch but giving some idea what he was doing and wanted to do in the future.

On the anniversary of his death one year I went to a Spiritualist meeting. Marion Denny, the medium that evening, was excellent. What she told me seemed very accurate.

The medium then spoke of a man wearing ordinary spectacles who had a hearing problem, but didn’t wear a hearing aid. She remarked that if it was as useless as the one she was wearing no wonder he didn’t wear it.

I rarely think of George as wearing glasses, but of course he wore them a lot. Like me he was shortsighted, and wore spectacles with large frames and lenses when out, but in the house he wore a pair of very ordinary looking spectacles with black frames. He suffered from a degree of deafness, especially towards the end of his life, and went to St Thomas’s Hospital Ear, Nose and Throat Department to have his ears syringed. They also gave him a hearing aid, which I believe he only ever wore on one occasion – a visit to the theater in Brighton. It whistled throughout the performance because he was not used to it and didn’t know how to make it work properly.

The medium’s description is not how I would have thought of George – deaf and wearing spectacles, yet it is entirely accurate and indicates this image of him was not transmitted telepathically by myself to the medium but came from some other source. It was how other people might see George, not how I saw him myself.

The message immediately after this description of George, for it could be nobody else I can think of, was not to let other people get me all hot and bothered, but to close my front door and take life day by day. This was so perceptive and accurate, as that Summer especially I had gotten myself tied up with other people’s arrangements and had little time for myself. I tended to get committed for weeks in advance, trying to please everyone, and not having time to do things I wanted to do. Living life day by day was what I wanted to do, but I always seemed to get enmeshed in other people’s plans and perhaps regret it later.

So, on the fourth anniversary of his death, I felt George had come through to me telling me to be a bit more independent, and not get too involved with the ‘lame ducks’ he had bequeathed me, and other people who were making more and more demands of my time. The message was to strike a balance, leaving enough time for myself. Instead of making plans far ahead I should postpone a decision until nearer the time, so I could decide on a day to day basis what I wanted to do. It all made so much sense, yet I found it difficult to break the habit of tying myself down to commitments days or weeks ahead, which was my way of coping with my bereavement and keeping busy in the months and years after George’s death.

 

 

 

The messages in printed format

The famous ‘All Is Well’ poem, which I’d never heard of at the time, came to me from no less than three quite separate sources. The shortened version (which was the first I received) follows:

 

 ‘Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room.

 I am I, and you are you whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

 Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. I am but waiting for you just around the corner. All is well.’

Three weeks after George died there was a sale of books, records and furniture in Battersea District Library which George had marked on the calendar to go to. I felt I had to go, and a book about London caught my eye. When I opened it there was a photograph of the Biograph. This was the cinema, long since demolished, where I had met George 21 years previously. I bought the book, certain George had sent me the photo in the book as a souvenir of our life together Рa sort of postcard to say he had moved on but still valued our partnership. Never before or since have I seen a photograph of the fa̤ade of this particular cinema anywhere, so it was quite rare.

One day I was trying to write a letter to Dee, but I was feeling so depressed it was all coming out in the letter, so I had to scrap it and I went over to George’s records. When I looked at a flap on the sleeve of an album cover I’d pulled out randomly I found just two verses of a song lyric which were absolutely right for me. No other lyrics were printed on the album cover, and even the title of the song (Conversation Love) was appropriate, because our love had been continued beyond the grave in conversation by letters, song lyrics, etc..

Before going over to the records, I had written down a list of my options. They included staying in the flat, moving away, committing suicide, meeting someone and have them move in with me, me move in with them, meeting someone but continuing to stay in the flat on my own. I considered these options one by one, and decided I could not move away from the flat under any circumstances, nor could I envisage anyone moving in with me. I had ruled out suicide as I believed it would solve nothing, I might have to face the same problem in a future incarnation. George’s message told me to be patient and confirmed my decision to stay in the flat, with all its memories of our life together, was the correct one:

‘Conversation Love 

Throw sad reflexions to the wind where they belong

Surprising things will rise to the top

And hand painted dreams will flow

All of the pain has to go and find its space

For love will come and take its place.

 ***

Full time illusions always hurt you in the end

And haunting ghosts can replay their part

To keep tender smiles down

Don’t let them turn you around

The answer’s clear, your peace has always been right here.’

The reference to ‘full time illusions’ I took to be the hope I had cherished that we would still be living together into old age, though George was always telling me he would never live to collect his pension.

Hidden away in a drawer I found a lovely photo of George after he died, one I’d never seen before. It was taken in one of those passport photo booths, which usually produce dreadful photos. This one was so good, of a smiling George the way I wanted  to remember him, I had it reproduced many times, blown up, framed and sent copies to his relatives and friends.

 George’s nephew came to stay with me for 9 days. He was pleasant enough when in the mood for talking, but I saw little of him as he spent half the day sleeping and every evening in a pub. He openly admitted he was smoking pot in his bedroom, and on at least one occasion, at 2 a.m., he brought a female prostitute home with him, and slung her out immediately when she demanded £100 (he apparently didn’t realize she was ‘on the game’). He vomited on my mat in the toilet, and no doubt when drunk or drugged to the eyeballs somehow managed to tear off some of George’s collage pictures on the wall which I had carefully preserved for over 12 years (luckily I was able to repair the damage.) Â

I consulted George via his dictionary, and the first thing my finger happened to be pointing at when I opened it randomly was: Vile behavior, grossly offensive, to abuse. This method of communication continues to work up to the present day, but only when George has something important to say.

After speaking to a friend about this book and the difficulties of getting it published, he suggested drastically editing it to much less than half its length, changing the title, etc.. I started to do this by extracting the pages about George’s life before he met me, with the intention of keeping them in and including our more interesting escapades and holidays together, but scrapping my own life-story before I met George, so it would just be his biography.

I consulted George’s dictionary as to what he thought about this idea, and immediately his displeasure came across. In entry after entry which my finger pointed at after randomly opening pages in quick succession, George made it clear that virtually cutting me out of the book would destroy the project we had worked on together, that the interweaving of our two lives was essential, and that by just concentrating on George’s life the whole thing would be dead and meaningless, set in the long distant past with no lessons to be learnt from it.

The title of the book, A Gay Tapestry, and George’s explanation of this title, show that the weaving together of our two lives and experiences we have gone through  was essential to our spiritual development. Without the full story being told, this book would be pointless. After sleeping on it, I decided to try to post the entire book, unedited, on to a Website.

One February I went to see the play ‘The Woman In Black’, knowing only that it was a ghost story. The central character felt he had to write down and re-enact the whole tale, which culminates in the death of his wife and child, in order to exorcise it from his mind. (Yet again, the importance of writing down our story.)

That very same day I had rung a publisher to advise in what format I should type up this manuscript. I had finished the first draft and was ready to edit and type up a copy for sending to possible publishers.

As in the play, I had written down the story of myself and George primarily as a therapeutic activity, to re-enact it and finally exorcise the trauma of his death from my mind. Now the first draft was finished did that mean I too was now free to move on? In retrospect, I think it did. In any event I felt I had to write down this story for both myself and posterity.

I read the message of the play as George saying I had finally exorcised the ‘curse of the woman in black’ symbolized by that figurine of a woman in black on my bedroom bookshelf, inches from the spot where George died, and which we bought together in Jersey as he was dying from PCP.  He later got scared of the ornament, saying it was an omen of death.

Having written everything down, it seemed as if that whole period had been dealt with and a new one could begin. The message from the play and two films I’d seen recently were all the same – I had to tell the story of George and myself in order to move on, and this last message came as soon as the first draft of the book was finished.

But was my interpretation right? I decided to consult George’s dictionary by opening pages and pointing to definitions at random. I got the message that a woman who had been a governess or tutor was about to curtsy out of my life, that this would break an icon allowing me to advance and ingratiate myself with something or somebody.

To me the meaning was again crystal clear. It referred to ‘the woman in black’, the iconic figurine which was an omen of George’s impending death and also the title of the play I saw. The message via George’s dictionary was that this figure was curtsying, bending her knees and bowing out of my life, allowing me to advance and move further away from the governing hold which this symbolic woman had held over my private world for the past four and a half years. She had been like a tutor, for the death of my partner had taught me a lot about life and put things into a totally new perspective. I had now symbolically broken this icon by writing down the whole story of our lives and had therefore ingratiated myself with George and my own life purpose because I was now free to move on.

Seventeen years after he passed over I was writing an email to someone in America. It was midnight on the night of September 28th/29th, and as the clock moved passed midnight I went into the long hallway and turned the spotlight on his AIDS quilt panel which hung there, a ritual I always observed on anniversaries like this. I then kissed his photo on the opposite wall.

I then came back in the room and consulted his dictionary, and he indicated he had seen me doing this, referring to my long hallway as a sort of art ‘gallery’ in which his photo and the spotlighted artistic AIDS quilt panel were displayed.

Symbolic messages and so-called ‘coincidences’

Skeptics would say the messages were just coincidence, but there comes a time when there are so many of these so-called ‘coincidences’ that ceases to be a plausible explanation – someone is definitely sending messages to me. It is not the individual incidents, the messages, which are important. It is the endless communications, the endless series of so-called ‘coincidences’ which prove that George is alive and well in another dimension, whilst keeping in touch with us in this one. Not just with me, but with his friends as well.

I finally heard from Islington Council (after much faxing and phoning) that George’s memorial plaque and tree were ready for planting in New River Walk gardens. These were the beautiful gardens he once showed me, which he used to visit when he lived in Islington long before he met me. I felt it would be a nice focal point to take friends and relatives to on anniversaries, and also for myself to visit. It was quite near where I worked.

The council wanted a date for the planting, and after checking with friends it seemed Friday July the 23rd was the most suitable date. I went to mark it on my calendar, and there was already an asterisk against that date. Wondering what I had planned, I suddenly remembered why I had marked that date – on that day I would be 48 years, 125 days old – exactly the same age as George when he died.

I remarked on this ‘coincidence’ in a letter to two friends, and then started to type some more of my book. I had reached our holiday in East Germany together in 1976, and had already described our visit to Dresden. The next day we were driving east to the Koenigstein Fortress, and it was this I started to write about. Then I noticed the date of this visit – Friday July 23rd, 1976.

It was not only the same date, but the same day of the week I would be planting George’s tree. My choice of July 23rd had therefore been confirmed twice. Circumstances had dictated I pick on a significant date entirely unaware, and as if to confirm this was not pure coincidence but George working behind the scenes, I was writing about the same day of the week and month 17 years previously. I believe this was George’s way of keeping in touch and saying ‘thank you’ for the tree and plaque, making it extra symbolic for me. I will always remember that George’s first memorial tree was planted the day I was on this Earth as long as George. I only hope I can grow and blossom like his tree in the extra time I am destined to live on this planet.

On July 23rd,  1993, the day I reached George’s exact age when he died, we planted his tree in the gardens. The council representative suggested the far side of the river, normally inaccessible to the general public, so the tree could be seen but not so easily vandalized. It all seemed so appropriate, as the far side of the river seemed symbolic of the divide between this world and the next. I was allowed across to take two close-up photos of the plaque, and later realized this was symbolic of my astral trip across the ‘river’ and the two brief snapshot glimpses I had of George through the windows of his celestial flat in the levitation dream. More symbolism was to become apparent later.

In September three years after George fell ill and then passed  to Spirit, I visited his tree in Islington. As I was approaching by the most direct route from the bus, I discovered new street nameplates had been erected since my last visit. I learnt, for the very first time, that the street leading up to the tree, and indeed virtually opposite it, was named ‘Jersey Road’. This name did not appear in my A-Z guide of London streets, so it must have been a fairly recent one. Jersey, was of course, our last holiday together and where he got really ill. The place where I first realized he was dying. Moreover I discovered the name of the road exactly three years to the day he fell ill as the ferry docked in Jersey.

The symbolism surrounding George’s tree was now quite astounding, and beyond the realms of mere coincidence: the tree was planted when I was the exact age (to the very day) George was when he died, and it was planted opposite Jersey Road (overlooked by a tower block called Jersey House I later discovered). And the name ‘Jersey Road’ I only found out three years to the day he got terminally ill on a ship in the port of St Helier in Jersey. None of this was planned by anyone on Earth.

On our 23rd anniversary, September 10th,  I had a full page article published in ‘Capital Gay’ on the problems of bereavement for the gay man. People who read it said it was very moving, and it included a brief description of our 21 year relationship and George’s death. The main purpose of the article was to reach other isolated, bereaved gays in order to help each other by setting up a group or club to do things together. I envisaged a sort of singles’ club for gays which would hopefully result in some long-term relationships, but would also provide companionship and friendship, and enable us to help and support each other by doing things together which we used to do with our partners. I was thinking of cinema and theater visits, holidays together, and so on.

I had not planned that this article should be published on our anniversary, this was just another of those remarkable ‘coincidences’ which I believe are nothing of the kind. They prove everything is guided and has a purpose, and that two years after George’s death I was starting to prepare my future life and move on. I was really enthusiastic about this idea of a gay singles’ club as it seemed to give my life new hope, purpose and meaning, helping others as well as myself.

I was spending a weekend in Norwich with our friends Dirk and Paul in May. During a visit to nearby Diss we were standing by a lake watching the ducks and geese. There was a big family of mother and ducklings, and I said to Paul I wished I had brought some bread to feed them. Spontaneously I said the sort of thing George would have said: ‘Please give me some bread, I’ve got sixteen mouths to feed.’ This just came into my head.

I had not counted the ducklings, but when I did I twice counted 15, then I saw another one which made 16. George must have told me how many there were before I even thought of counting them, proving once again he is always near me wherever I am.

I had a party to celebrate my 50th birthday, and Lena’s partner Frank, who had an expensive camera and was a good photographer, took some photos of George’s quilt panel. I had wanted him to do this ever since we had made it nearly two years earlier, but he had never brought his camera with him on previous occasions.

Of course it was George working behind the scenes again to make sure the banner was only photographed properly on a significant occasion. When the photos were developed above the banner were balloons with the words ‘50 today’ on them. This reminded me that we had begun the banner at the Lighthouse Project Quilt Workshop on May 27th, 1993, which would have been George’s 50th birthday. This was not planned by us, and the message on the balloons made me realize the banner was photographed professionally for the first time the day I celebrated my 50th birthday, so the photos were like a present to me, just as the quilt panel were like a present to George. Once again dates had proved very significant.

In all sorts of little ways I got the feeling George was working behind the scenes. On the day I was wearing a suit last worn by George, I received an internal e-mail at work from the computer department suggesting a name for a general electronic mailbox which myself and my colleague would use to handle incoming public e-mail. The name chosen, quite independently, was ‘George’. I had suggested ‘Internet’, but the IT person had made an anagram of the first three letters of two public e-mail networks we used at the time – GEOnet and GREennet.

It was particularly appropriate because George was telex operator at AI before I started there in 1985 in the same job. In the next ten years fax and e-mail had largely replaced telex, and here was George’s name being suggested for the latest technology to replace telex, and it was suggested on the 4th anniversary of his last full day on Earth.

Some years before an entire computer had been named after someone who used to work at AI as a volunteer, now this electronic mailbox was being given George’s name quite unintentionally, and it served to remind me how close George still was to me. It was also one in the eye for the International Secretariat of AI which had blacklisted George for whistleblowing on alleged mismanagement and waste of money. Now they were to have a mailbox bearing his name doing many of the functions George himself used to do with older technology 15 years earlier.

It is not every day that you find the composer Khachaturian’s name in the paper, yet the very day I printed out the final version of the chapter which mentions my dancing to the composer’s ‘Saber Dance’ as a small child, his name did appear in a news item about a young musician’s award. As I read the piece, I realized I had spelt the name incorrectly. George was a great lover of classical music, and would be very unhappy to see a composer’s name spelt wrongly in the final draft of our book. He was making sure I corrected the spelling mistake, I am 100% sure of that. It is just too fantastic odds to be mere coincidence.

On May 27th, George’s 54th birthday anniversary, something truly remarkable again occurred. His sister and nephew from Glasgow were visiting London for the first time since the old plaque by George’s tree had gone missing nearly two years previously. Both myself and the gardeners had searched the bushes and the river for the plaque, but couldn’t find it, so a new one was made.

However when we visited the tree on George’s birthday and asked the gardener to put some flowers at the base of the tree, he gave us the old plaque which the police had found when they dragged the river recently for a murder weapon. George’s sister, Betty, took it home to put in her garden with some flowers round it as a memorial to George in his home city. It seemed it was meant for her the way it turned up when she was visiting after being missing for two years. It was as if George was giving his sister a present on his birthday, and saying to her if you remember me with this plaque all is forgiven even though we parted on bad terms.

Warnings and predictions

Some quite remarkable things happened in 1997 around the time I revisited New Orleans for the first time since George and I were there in 1983.

A couple of weeks before I left I was laying in bed and I got the strong impression George was relaying a message to me. It concerned two people, our old friend Rose in Hastings, and my new boyfriend, Stan, who was married. The message which came into my head was then verified and strengthened by words and definitions I looked up randomly in George’s dictionary.

So strong was the message about Rose I relayed it to another old friend of ours, Andre, and told him to remember it, but I hoped it didn’t come true. It was a prediction that after my American trip something dreadful would happen to Rose. I assumed it meant he would pass over, either from a complication due to his often neglected diabetic condition (he was always eating things forbidden to him), or due to some clumsy accident. When I saw Rose a week before my American trip, I told him to be careful as George had warned me something might happen to him very soon.

The message about Stan was that our relationship would continue steadily, but would really take off once he got a divorce from his wife. Since he was not even contemplating a divorce but had said the marriage was often difficult and if it got too much or broke up he’d come and live with me, I took the word ‘divorce’ loosely to mean if ever Stan left his wife and moved in with me the relationship between us would really blossom.

When I got back home from America, sure enough Rose was in hospital with septicemia, a complication of advanced diabetes which often leads to amputations and, frequently, death in a relatively short space of time. George’s warning had come true already. I went down to Hastings and visited Rose in hospital and helped his partner Neil at home. We both knew it was very serious, and one look at Rose told me he was not at all well. Speaking to him you knew he wasn’t his usual self, he didn’t even laugh at a saucy present I had brought him back from New Orleans, so that told me how near death he was. I recognized that near death look George had etched on his face in the weeks before he died, and didn’t expect Rose to survive. Thankfully he improved during the week and was allowed back home.

The next weekend when I went down, although still ill and in pain, it was almost like old times with him and Neil arguing. The flat had seemed so empty and sad without Rose the weekend before. George wasn’t ready to face his old friend Rose on the Other Side yet, so had obviously summoned up all his healing powers to help Rose make a miraculous recovery. Also, Neil was to need Rose in future years, after Neil had several strokes. It was clearly not yet time for Rose to depart this world.

Stan was overjoyed to see me, his eyes brimming and full of love. He couldn’t wait to hold my hand, and give me cuddles and kisses. The relationship has continued steadily since then, and he is now much more relaxed in my company and has come to terms with his gay side. It still remains to be seen if he ever leaves his wife or if she throws him out. Danielle, their daughter, came along years later, and they moved to, of all places, Hastings, so I still saw him regularly when I visited Rose and Neil. Predictions from George that we will end up living together continued to come through strongly from time to time, as unlikely as this seems at the moment.

This is just a summary of some of the communications from George since his passing. He has given me warnings, made predictions, and seems to have guided me in all sorts of ways. I’ve felt his presence on holidays around the world, turned up at places at just the right time to see things that we would have loved to have explored together. I’ve been with people on anniversaries of his death, yet at just the right moment they’ve been called away and I have time to myself. On the third anniversary of his death this happened, and that evening I was playing the cassette player he had told me to get a cover for. Some sad songs dedicated to George, then a cassette of rock’n’roll to cheer myself up. They were the last cassettes ever played on that machine. Next morning it would not work properly. It expired exactly three years to the day after George, but I was allowed to play that special tape before the very old gadget finally gave out.

The messages have continued ever since, especially when I have sought his guidance and advice about important things. Nor is this unusual. Surveys have found that a high percentage of widows and widowers have communication with their dead spouses, but are reluctant to talk about it because such things are taboo. Not with me though – I’ve seen, heard and read enough evidence to know that there is no such thing as death, and that love lives on beyond the grave.